(Updated to include response from Schmidt campaign)
Conservative State Sen. Dennis Pyle on Monday morning submitted nearly 9,000 signatures to get on the ballot for governor this fall, potentially upending Republicans’ chances of reclaiming the governor’s office.
Arriving at the secretary of state’s office with his running mate, Pyle turned in a file box with petitions containing 8,894 signatures that will need to be certified before he qualifies to get on the ballot this fall. He needs 5,000 signatures.
There’s no statutory deadline for certifying the signatures, but state officials want to get it completed before Sept. 1.
If successful, the conservative state senator from Hiawatha stands as a threat to Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt, the GOP’s presumptive nominee for governor.
Schmidt would face Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly. Both have nominal opposition in Tuesday’s primary election.
When turning in his petitions, Pyle didn’t hide his disdain for Schmidt and Kelly while talking to reporters when turning in his petition.
“I am the conservative in the race,” Pyle said.
“The voters really have no choice. It’s really a liberal and liberal,” Pyle said of Schmidt and Kelly. “Without me, voters only have a liberal choice.”
Asked whether he would undercut Schmidt’s chances of defeating Kelly in the fall, Pyle said there was no guarantee that the attorney general would win this fall.
“The assumption is being made that Derek can beat Laura,” Pyle said. “I don’t buy that assumption.
“All these people that we’ve knocked on doors and talked to them, they’re not happy,” he said. “The Republican ones are very disenfranchised with their candidate.
“There were people at the door that told me that they wanted to sign my petition because they thought we would split the vote,” he said. “And I intend to split the vote.”
The Schmidt campaign repudiated Pyle’s candidacy on Monday afternoon. The campaign said Democratic political operatives helped Pyle collect the signatures, knowing it would help Kelly win in the fall.
“Democrat political operatives, who know a majority of Kansans want a new governor, backed this effort to get a third-party vanity candidate who has no chance of winning on the November ballot,” campaign spokesman CJ Grover said.
“While Democrats might have gotten their spoiler, Laura Kelly is still going to lose the election because Kansans know a vote for fake conservative Dennis Pyle is a vote for four more years of Laura Kelly,” Grover said.
The Schmidt campaign also released statements from the Kansans for Life political action committee and the Kansas State Rifle Association PAC showing support for the attorney general and his conservative credentials.
The Kansas Republican Party lashed out at Pyle after he filed his petitions.
“Hardworking Kansans are struggling due to Joe Biden’s inflation crisis, Dennis Pyle is playing games with their future by knowingly providing Laura Kelly the only path to a second term,” said Shannon Pahls, the party’s executive director.
“Dennis Pyle doesn’t care about Kansans. Dennis Pyle only cares about Dennis Pyle. A vote for him is a vote for four more years of Laura Kelly and liberal Democrat control.”
Pyle left the Republican Party about two months ago and within a week appointed a treasurer to raise money to run for governor.
The Kansas Republican Party subsequently delivered a reminder about its loyalty oath after Pyle revealed he was setting the stage to run for governor as an independent candidate.
The email put party leaders and officials on notice that they should not be backing Pyle, who dropped his Republican Party affiliation to run for governor.
Joining Pyle on Monday morning was his running mate Kathleen E. Garrison, a businesswoman from Haysville.
Garrison now serves on the Clearwater School Board in Sedgwick County. She also ran unsuccessfully for the Sedgwick County Board of Commissioners in 2019.
There has been speculation about how much help Pyle might have received from Democrats gathering signatures after it was reported that Democratic state Rep. Vic Miller was collecting signatures.
“I can’t tell you the party affiliation of all these people. I’m an independent,” he said.
“I can tell you I knocked on all doors. I didn’t carry a voter registration list. I’m an independent I’ll work with all of them.
“Conservatives have to change the game and that’s what I’m trying to do.”