Kansas’ former GOP governor endorses his first statewide Democrat — Kris Kobach’s opponent

Two-term Bill Graves endorsed Laura Kelly for governor.

Former Gov. Bill Graves (K-KS) endorsing Democrat Laura Kelly.
Former Gov. Bill Graves (K-KS) endorsing Democrat Laura Kelly. CREDIT: Kelly campaign video screenshot.

Weeks after barely eking out a win in the Kansas Republican gubernatorial primary over incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer, disgraced far-right state Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s bad week just got worse. One of Kansas’ most popular former governors just crossed party lines to endorse Kobach’s Democratic opponent.

Two-term former Gov. Bill Graves (R-KS) announced on Tuesday that he was endorsing Democrat Laura Kelly in November’s gubernatorial general election.

“I have been a Republican my entire life and inherited that from my father and my mother,” Graves explains in a newly-released announcement video. “Laura Kelly is the only Democrat I have ever endorsed for public office.” (This statement does not appear to be quite true; Graves endorsed a few Democratic legislative candidates in 2016).


Graves explained that Kelly “has all the qualities, all the capabilities we’re looking for in this difficult time, to reestablish the state to what it once was,” and praised her as a person with “integrity” who would “bring Republicans and Democrats together to solve problems.”

Kobach is best known for his work trying to suppress the vote by peddling false claims about mythical widespread voter fraud and for pushing a xenophobic approach of mass deportations of immigrant kids. He won the GOP gubernatorial nomination last month by fewer than 400 votes out of more than 317,000 cast.

When then-Gov. Graves was re-elected in 1998, he garnered a stunning 74 percent of the vote. Bob Beatty, political science chair at Washburn University, told the Kansas City Star that the Graves endorsement “a big deal.” A spokesperson for Kobach dismissed the endorsement, claiming that with Kelly and independent Greg Orman both running, “there are two committed liberal candidates in the race, and I am happy that Graves was able to choose one to support. Kansas Democrats have a tough choice to make on the first Tuesday of November.”

But if Graves is any indication, it might be Republicans who are re-thinking their party.

UPDATE (9/4, 3:35 p.m.): This story has been updated to note that Graves has endorsed Democratic candidates in the past.