Former Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer on Monday announced he was withdrawing from the Republican primary for governor as he faces treatment for prostate cancer.
“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,” he said.
Colyer’s announcement came a day after he was visibly absent from the Johnson County Republican Party picnic, which was attended by other GOP statewide candidates.
It was the second major event he had missed in recent weeks after not attending a Kansans for Life event in Bonner Springs about a week ago.
Colyer’s absence from both events had sparked widespread speculation about whether he would follow through on his plans to run for governor.
Colyer’s announcement leaves the GOP field clear for Attorney General Derek Schmidt with the primary election less than a year away.
While some other GOP candidates have been mentioned fleetingly, Schmidt is now in a commanding position with the support of many key Republicans throughout the state.
With no other major primary challenger in sight, Schmidt is now in a position to raise money without opposition and focus his campaign on Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly.
It had been widely expected that the Schmidt and Colyer would be engaged in a bruising primary contest that might help Kelly going into next year’s general election.
On Monday, Colyer backed Schmidt for governor.
“Kansas has felt the pain of nearly three years of Gov. Kelly’s leadership,” Colyer said in a statement.
“Now it’s time for Republicans to come together, rally around Derek Schmidt, and reclaim Cedar Crest.”
Schmidt said that he and his wife, Jennifer, sent their prayers to Colyer in his battle against cancer.
“Jeff Colyer is a longtime friend who has led an exemplary life of service,” Schmidt said in a statement.
“I welcome and appreciate Gov. Colyer’s endorsement and agree that now is the time to come together to elect a Republican governor for Kansas next year.”
The governor tweeted her well wishes after Colyer’s announcement.
“Dr. Colyer and I may have our disagreements. But one thing we can all agree on: The need to defeat cancer,” Kelly tweeted.
“Wishing him a quick recovery.”
Colyer, a plastic surgeon, has been involved in Kansas politics for almost 20 years, capped by a narrow defeat to former Secretary of State Kris Kobach in the 2018 primary for governor.
Colyer lost to Kobach by 343 votes but decided against demanding a recount and instead regrouped for a 2022 campaign for governor that ended on Monday with personal illness.
The former governor’s first foray into politics came in 2002 when he unsuccessfully ran for Congress in the Kansas 3rd Congressional District.
Four years later, Colyer successfully ran for the Kansas House from Overland Park, winning his primary and general elections handily.
Colyer was elected to the Kansas Senate from Overland Park in 2008 and was picked to be Gov. Sam Brownback’s running mate in 2010.
Colyer served as Brownback’s lieutenant governor until 2018 when Brownback left Kansas to join President Donald Trump’s administration as ambassador-at-Large for international religious freedom.
Colyer served as Kansas’ 47th governor before Kelly was elected later in 2018.
Brownback sympathized with the tough decision Colyer and his family faced.
He praised the entire Colyer family on Twitter, calling them “a great family and talented contributors to this state, nation and world.”
“Praying for a full and speedy recovery! God bless you.”
A native of Hays, Colyer earned a bachelor’s degree economics and pre-med from Georgetown University in 1981 and a master’s degree in international relations from Cambridge University in 1982.
He received his medical degree from the University of Kansas in 1986.
“To my patients, I will continue to take care of you for years to come,” Colyer said in his announcement bowing out of the governor’s race.
“If I see you as a patient in the trauma bay, know that not only will I fight like hell for you but I also know first-hand how it feels to face adversity.”
Colyer added another remark addressing Kansans.
“I know you love our great state as much as Ruth and I do. Kansas is the true heart of America. It is an honor of a lifetime to serve you. Ruth and I will continue to find ways to lead Kansas forward.”