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Kris Kobach’s anti-voter, anti-immigrant experiment is failing. Can he convince Kansans otherwise?

The Republican secretary of state seeks to unseat Gov. Jeff Colyer in Tuesday's primary.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (center) listens to journalist John Eligon (extreme right), from the New York Times, at an election night party (for Ron Estes' Congressional special election victory), Wichita, Kansas, April 11, 2017. (Photo by Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images)
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (center) listens to journalist John Eligon (extreme right), from the New York Times, at an election night party (for Ron Estes' Congressional special election victory), Wichita, Kansas, April 11, 2017. (Photo by Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

KANSAS CITY, KANSAS — Kris Kobach is not having a great year.

First, in January, President Trump disbanded the voter fraud commission he created in an attempt to validate his dubious claim that millions of illegal voters cost him the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election. Kobach had become the face of the group, which faced over a dozen lawsuits while failing to come up with any credible evidence of voter fraud.

Then in March, Kobach decided to represent himself in a federal trial over his documentary proof of citizenship law. Kobach touted the law, passed in 2013, as the signature achievement of his time as Kansas’ secretary of state. But in a courtroom, where his racist and nationalistic rhetoric had to be replaced with hard data and evidence, Kobach failed to impress. George W. Bush-appointed district court judge Julie Robinson repeatedly chastised him and his team for fumbling basic rules of evidence. He was found in contempt of court for violating an order and continuing to refuse to register eligible voters.

The ruling striking down his law, which came in June, could not have been a surprise to Kobach, who was by then deep into his campaign for governor. But adding insult to injury, the federal judge ordered him to attend six hours of continuing legal education.

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Kobach, an Harvard, Yale, and Oxford-educated attorney, came out looking like a sham. And that was before last week, when ProPublica and the Kansas City Star published an investigation exposing how he represented towns across the country that passed anti-immigrant ordinances, bilking the small towns out of millions of dollars, failing in court, and leaving them financially ruined in his wake.

Now, Kobach is trying to convince Kansans to make him the GOP nominee for governor, and recent polling indicates that he may succeed.

“I’m going to want to throw up, but I fully expect him to win,” said Kansas voter Anita Parsa, who founded a group called Voters Against Crosscheck that works to raise awareness about Kobach’s database software that compares voter records across the country. “This race is so parallel to the 2016 presidential race, it’s not even funny.”

Parsa is far from the only Kansan to compare the race to the 2016 GOP presidential primary. Kobach, a friend of the president’s, claims his anti-immigrant agenda will help “Make Kansas Great Again.” Incumbent Republican Governor Jeff Colyer has said that “Kris would bring a lot of risk” because of his unpopularity in the state.

On Monday morning, President Trump tweeted his endorsement of Kobach.

As was the case with Trump in 2016, some Democrats are rejoicing at the prospect of Kobach clinching the GOP nomination instead of a more traditional Republican like Colyer. Republican Party leaders worry that Kobach would have a difficult time beating a Democrat in November in a state where gubernatorial races have lately swung between Democrats and Republicans.

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State senator Laura Kelly, one of the leading Democrats in the race, told ThinkProgress she can beat both Kobach and Colyer, although a race against Kobach would draw more national attention.

For his part, Colyer (R) is branding himself as the moderate to Kobach’s extremism. It’s not the easiest case to make: Colyer has earned the endorsement of the National Rifle Association and served as lieutenant governor to former Gov. Sam Brownback (R), the governor whose experiments with radical tax cuts plunged the state into a fiscal crisis.

Jon Augustine, a registered Republican, told ThinkProgress he plans to vote for whichever Democrat advances to November’s general election because of how dissatisfied he is with Brownback’s tenure.

“What do they have to show for the past eight years, besides a general degradation of the living quality in Kansas?” he asked.

When it comes to Kobach, Augustine had a lot of criticisms.

“He’s slavishly devoted to the man in Washington, and that’s not a mark in his favor,” he said. “I don’t know how he can earn $700,000 doing things not associated with his secretary of state’s job and then heads a commission to find voter fraud and couldn’t find anything.”

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Scott Moore, a Mission Hills, Kansas resident and registered independent who will not be voting in the primary, said he doesn’t understand Kobach’s obsession with illegal immigration when Kansas is situated so far from the border.

“He seems to create problems that didn’t exist and he’s the guy to fix them,” said Moore, who is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against Kobach over his Crosscheck system.

Moore also said he takes issue with Kobach’s economic plans.

“I have concerns that he’ll continue to gut the state budget,” he said. “Brownback was bad and I think Kobach would be worse.”

Should he clinch the nomination, Parsa believes Kobach will just continue to seek higher office, with eyes on an eventual presidential race.

“To me the stakes on this are very high,” she said. “There were people holding up Kobach/Trump 2024 signs at the fundraiser with Trump Jr. I mean, this is a very special kind of insanity.”