It was set to be the first face-to-face showdown of the 2022 governor’s race.
Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt and former Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer were scheduled to appear Friday night before a Kansans for Life meeting in Bonner Springs.
It would have given each the chance to sell themselves to a central part of the Republican base with the primary election about a year away.
But Colyer withdrew from the private event, which featured an “inspirational poll” where the candidates were to be judged on how well they could motivate voters to support the upcoming constitutional amendment on abortion.
Instead, Colyer’s campaign sent former Republican state Sen. Steve Fitzgerald as a surrogate. Fitzgerald once represented part of the area where the meeting was held.
Schmidt won the poll decisively, 236-21, although Colyer will get a chance to appear with the attorney general at an event in Wichita on Sept. 18 where another “inspirational poll” will be held.
On Friday night, Schmidt and Fitzgerald each got 15 minutes to talk about the abortion issue, including the “Value Them Both” amendment that would reverse a state Supreme Court ruling that found the right to an abortion is protected by the state constitution.
They were asked to answer questions about whether “pro-life policies are reflective of mainstream Kansas values” and how they would fire up Kansans to support the constitutional amendment.
The forum was not open to the public and the poll results and details of the questions were relayed by KFL officials and others involved in the event.
“Tonight, the room was unified behind passing the Value Them Both Amendment to correct the misinterpretation of our state constitution, and I am honored that the packed house was virtually unified behind our campaign as well,” Schmidt said in a statement.
“By standing strong together, we will win in August and November.”
The Colyer campaign issued a statement early Friday afternoon explaining the former governor’s absence from the event.
“Jeff Colyer is fulfilling his duties as a father and taking his daughters off to college,” the Colyer campaign said in a statement Friday.
The campaign said when the event was being planned it made it known to KFL that Colyer may be out of town.
“We appreciate the support of this great pro-family organization and are thankful they have allowed our campaign to send Sen. Fitzgerald as our surrogate.
“Gov. Colyer looks forward to joining KFL in person on Sept. 18 in Wichita.”
Wichita State political scientist Neal Allen saw the event as a potentially important moment in the governor’s race leading up to next year’s primary.
“There are a lot of issues that are important to Kansas Republican voters, but abortion is at the top of the list,” Allen said in an interview earlier this week.
“And abortion is going to be even more important than usual,” he said, “because the governor primary is on the same ballot as the constitutional amendment so it’s going to be an electorate full of people that care about abortion.”
Allen noted that Schmidt and Colyer have resumes that can appeal to Republican voters who feel strongly about abortion.
But he noted that KFL carries a lot of influence that can ultimately swing the race in favor of a candidate who it elects to back, elevating the importance of any meeting that would involve candidates from any race.
“Kansans for Life is a very powerful organization that has a big role in state politics and even bigger in the Republican Party,” Allen said.
“It makes sense that any candidate for governor or statewide office in general would try to find a way to get in front of those voters,” he said.
With a defined race for a primary election about 11 months away, Allen said media and the political class will be looking for any sign of who might be favored.
So a small straw poll, as unscientific as it might be, “is at least something to talk about.”
“Straw polls tend not to tell us much about where the electorate is going to be, but they do tell us where the activist base is sometimes,” he said.