WICHITA, Kan. – Kansas election officials certified independent Greg Orman as a candidate for Kansas governor on Friday, and the businessman immediately tried to appeal to disaffected Republicans, who he said view GOP hopeful Kris Kobach as “incompetent and corrupt.”
Orman’s entry into the race presents a major obstacle to Democrats, who had hoped to lure the same moderate Republicans away from Kobach, a favourite of President Donald Trump because of his fervent support for tough immigration and voter ID laws.
The secretary of state’s office posted a short statement saying Orman had presented enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot in November.
Orman, a 49-year-old Kansas City-area businessman, will face Democratic State Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka and Kobach, whose nomination was only settled this week after Gov. Jeff Colyer conceded in a primary with a razor-thin margin of some 350 votes out of more than 316,000 cast.
“I think there are lots of Kansas Republicans who view Kris Kobach as not only extreme but incompetent and corrupt and I think those Republicans … will be very attracted to my background,” Orman told The Associated Press in an interview after the announcement.
But Kobach’s spokesman, Danedri Herbert said “cutting taxes and stopping illegal immigration is not extreme, and added that there has never been any hint of corruption with Kobach.
In a sign of how nasty the race could become, Kobach spokeswoman Danedri Herbert hit back at Orman, citing his association with a former Goldman Sach’s board member convicted of insider trading. When that issue arose during the 2014 Senate race, Orman said in he had a “very modest” investment in a company with Rajat K. Gupta, who was convicted in 2012.
“Cutting taxes and stopping illegal immigration is not extreme,” Herbert said. “There has not been any hint of corruption in any aspect of Secretary Kobach’s career, as opposed to Mr. Orman, whose close business associate Rajat Gupta, was convicted of insider trading.”
Citing his business background, Orman said he could also draw many Democratic voters who recognize the job of governor is not just a policy job, but a management job.
Democrats were gearing up for a potential legal challenge to Orman’s certification. Many Democrats have worried that Orman will pull votes away from Kelly, 68, making it far easier for the 52-year-old Kobach to win with less than a majority of the vote. The deadline for submitting any objections to the petition is Monday.
“Kansans are ready for a leader who will put the best interests of our families first — not their own political ambitions like Greg Orman and Kris Kobach,” said Johanna Warshaw, spokeswoman for the Kelly campaign.
Bob Beatty, a political scientist at Washburn University in Topeka, said if Orman takes votes away, it is likely to be disproportionately from the Democrat.
But many voters who tell pollsters that they are excited about an independent worry on election day that their vote will be wasted and pick one of the parties, Beatty said.
The GOP began a clean sweep of statewide and congressional races in 2010. But the state also has a solid bloc of moderate GOP and independent voters and a history over the past 50 years of alternating between electing Republican and Democratic governors.
The certification of Orman as a candidate was made by the same office Kobach heads as secretary of state. But officials said the 10,260 signatures submitted by Orman were reviewed by individual counties and Kobach did not participate.
Orman ran as an independent against U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts in 2014 and did so well in initial polling that the Democratic candidate dropped out to create a better chance of toppling the veteran Republican. Orman lost by 10.5 percentage points after Roberts got campaign help from several GOP stalwarts, including Sarah Palin, Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul.
On Orman’s website, he says he supports stronger background checks for gun buyers, ending the sale of bump stocks and high-capacity magazines, setting a minimum age of 21 to buy an AR-15 or other semi-automatic weapon and requiring training and licensing for a concealed-carry permit. Orman said he supports the Second Amendment but would like to revisit which types of arms Americans have a right to own.
During the 2014 Senate race, Orman described himself as “pro-choice” and said abortion policy was a matter of settled law and the nation should move on.
Orman’s running mate John Doll is from Garden City and left the Republican Party to run for lieutenant governor.
An independent candidate for governor last came close to winning in 1932.
Orman graduated from Princeton in 1991 and founded Environmental Light Concepts, a firm that designed and installed energy-efficient lighting systems for commercial and industrial use. The company had more than 120 employees when a majority of it was sold to Kansas City Power and Light in 1996.
After a stint with KCP&L, Orman co-founded Denali Partners, a private equity firm, and later became managing member of Exemplar Holdings LLC, which oversees several innovation companies.