Jeff Colyer drops out of Kansas governor's race, citing cancer, clearing GOP path for Derek Schmidt
Jeff Colyer has dropped out of the 2022 Kansas governor's race, citing a cancer diagnosis, clearing the path for Derek Schmidt in the Republican primary.
"While I have always focused on helping others, for the next few weeks I am going to focus on my health," Colyer said in a statement. "I was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer like my father and grandfather. After treatment, I am confident for a full recovery. Given these challenges, Ruth and I have decided to withdraw from the Governor’s race."
Colyer said he is endorsing Schmidt for governor.
"Colyer is a longtime friend who has led an exemplary life of service," Schmidt said in a statement. "Jennifer and I wish Jeff all the best in overcoming his current health challenges, and we will keep Jeff, Ruth and their family in our thoughts and prayers and ask all Kansans to do the same."
Colyer previously served as the lieutenant governor under Sam Brownback before taking over as governor when Brownback left to be a diplomate for religious freedom in the Trump administration. He narrowly lost the 2018 Republican primary to Kris Kobach, who lost in the general election to Democrat Laura Kelly.
"I believe God put us here to make a difference in people’s lives," Colyer said. "I chose to be a doctor to help people and am humbled to serve my fellow Kansans as Governor and Lt. Governor to fight for this wonderful place we call home.
"I am proud of what we have achieved. When I completed my term, we accomplished a lot: more Kansans working than ever before, record household income, record small business formation, and a budget surplus over $1.1 billion (the most ever transferred from one administration to the next)."
Schmidt, the current attorney general, is the biggest political brand in the GOP field. He said he agreed that "now is the time to come together to elect a Republican governor for Kansas next year."
Colyer's decision to drop out will allow him to raise money with an eye towards the general election, although it is possible another Republican will toss their hat in the ring in an effort to give Schmidt a race.
Still, Kansas Republican Party Chair Mike Kuckelman said the party was "unified" in the wake of Colyer's announcement.
"The Kansas Republican Party wishes Governor Jeff Colyer all the best as he and his family focus on his health," Kuckelman said in a statement. "Governor Colyer has served Kansas well and Kansas Republicans are very appreciative of his years of service."
In a tweet, the Kansas Democratic Party wished Colyer "the best as he recovers from this serious health issue."
"Prioritizing your health is something that is always commendable and the KDP respects the former Governor’s decision to withdraw from the race. We hope for a speedy recovery."
In addition to Kelly and Schmidt, also running are Seth Cordell, Kent McElroy, Zebulon LaPorte, Kenneth Cannon and Richard Duncan, according to secretary of state campaign filings.
How does Colyer dropping out affect Schmidt and Kelly?
The governor's race has essentially been reset with Schmidt in a "tremendous position for the nomination," said Bob Beatty, a professor of political science at Washburn University.
"This is momentous news in Kansas politics," he said. "It essentially restarts the governor's race from square one, and on that square is a huge front runner, which is Derek Schmidt. Although it's tempting to say now we know way ahead that it's now Schmidt versus Laura Kelly, there's still time for another Republican to jump in.
"Kansas is a Republican state, and so we expect to have a competitive primary more often than not."
There's usually more than one strong Republican candidate who wants to run for governor. But that doesn't always happen, Beatty said, pointing to Brownback's elections in 2010 and 2014.
So who could challenge Schmidt for the GOP nomination? Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is the "obvious name," Beatty said.
"Pompeo has shown interest in a presidential race, but one of the best paths to the presidency is through a governor's office," Beatty said. "The problem for Pompeo right now is waiting to see what Donald Trump is going to do."
Pompeo has long been surrounded by speculation over the future of his political career. He appeared to smile earlier in the month when an attendee at a Wichita convention shouted that he should run for president. Minutes later, he told reporters that he is focused on using his political action committee, CAVPAC, to help conservative candidates win in the 2022 midterms.
"Outside of Pompeo, there's no there's no big names that come to mind," Beatty said. "So that just leaves the possibility of relatively unknown Republicans who want to offer an alternative to an establishment candidate."
Schmidt's main vulnerability in the primary would be a wildcard candidate with enough money to make their campaign known.
"There may be some may be some candidates on the business side who see that opening to run under the idea of a non-politician," Beatty said. "One of Schmidt strengths is he's a longtime officeholder, but we know that in an election, sometimes that can be an opening for sort of a wildcard candidate."
Beatty said that type of candidate would be similar to Bob Hamilton’s campaign for U.S. Senate in 2020. The businessman and plumber spent millions of dollars in the Republican primary to eventually lose to Roger Marshall.
"After Donald Trump, you never discount those kinds of possibilities," Beatty said.
Wichita businessman Wink Hartman could fall into that category.
Could another Republican switch races?
It’s also possible that candidates for other offices could switch races, such as Kris Kobach in the attorney general race.
"It's early enough that a candidate who's running for attorney general or treasurer could see an opening," Beatty said.
Jake LaTurner did that in 2020, Beatty said, jumping from the Senate race to the 2nd Congressional District, where he ousted Steve Watkins in the primary.
"Kobach’s interesting because of course he won the primary in 2018," Beatty said. "He's got a built-in base. But I mean, of course that would be epic battle, Kobach vs. Kelly part two. That possibility certainly is intriguing."
Such a campaign would be an uphill battle. Even before Colyer dropped out, much of the party establishment was already gravitating to Schmidt.
"Obviously, there's some medical reasons that are involved with this, but there also did seem to be a momentum shift to Schmidt in the last few months, especially with some endorsements," Beatty said. "I think the (Bob) Dole and (Pat) Roberts endorsements were really important."
In the absence of another big-name candidate, Colyer dropping out likely helps Schmidt and hurts Kelly. Schmidt can save money on the primary while avoiding some attacks from within his party.
"For Schmidt, it may avoid a nasty primary and allow him to basically fundraise for the next year and raise a huge war chest," Beatty said. "And so, by definition, that's not helpful to Laura Kelly. On the other hand, she always had to be prepared to face Schmidt."
Kelly’s game plan for Colyer would have been to tie him to Brownback, Beatty said. Her strategy against Schmidt will likely be determined by what is happening in Kansas in a year.
Colyer said he expects to fully recover, at least medically. He didn't indicate whether he would attempt a political comeback in the future.
"I think it really has to be the right race," Beatty said. "Ironically, even though he was the former governor, there was some Republicans saying this wasn't the right race, and maybe because of that Brownback tie-in."
The primary season started early in Kansas. Now, without a rival for Schmidt, it could be essentially over.
"The primary campaign is almost over before it began," Beatty said. "And so the great question is, does it actually start? Meaning does a Republican take on Schmidt. So if he doesn't, then there's no real campaign until August of 2022."
It is possible that dark-money political action committees could start running ads in early 2022 before the candidates start running their own ads, he said.
"What we thought could be an incredibly intense governor's campaign for the next year with millions of dollars in TV ads and everything that goes with that could now be the exact opposite: very little until spring or summer of 2022," he said.