Still weary from the 2020 election? You may want to look away.
Controversy surrounding a lawsuit seeking to overturn the presidential election results in four key swing states has had a knock-on effect, touching off a spate of speculation about the political plans for several prominent Kansas Republicans.
The case was summarily dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday night.
But earlier in the week, Attorney General Derek Schmidt added the state to a brief supporting the challenge, brought by his counterpart in Texas.
That left some debate over whether Schmidt was doing his job or whether he may have his eye on a run for higher office, potentially in 2022, when Gov. Laura Kelly is likely to face a stiff re-election test.
The speculation was fueled by other prominent Republicans urging Schmidt on, with some thought given to the notion that they, too, may be plotting a gubernatorial bid.
"The 2020 cycle has started and we are in that phase of the race where the goal of people who want to run is to get attention," said Patrick Miller, professor of political science at the University of Kansas.
Longshot case fails, despite Kansas support
The Texas suit was just the latest in a series of longshot bids by President Donald Trump and his allies to invalidate the election results in several key swing states.
These efforts largely are based upon nonexistent claims of voter fraud and come as all 50 states have certified their results. Virtually every legal challenge from Trump and his team has failed.
The Texas suit may be the most brazen yet, as it would have involved another state asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a challenge to the results in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan. The upshot would have been swinging the presidential race to Trump.
Rick Hasen, a professor at the University of California, Irvine and a top expert on election law, wrote in his blog that the filing had taken the cake as the "dumbest" suit yet from Trump and his backers
"What utter garbage. Dangerous garbage, but garbage," Hasen wrote.
But that did not stop Kansas and 16 other states from signing on in support of the lawsuit earlier this week.
In a statement, Schmidt said that "these are important and potentially recurring constitutional questions that need an answer."
"Kansas ran its elections honestly and by the rules that are supposed to apply evenly to all of us," Schmidt said. "Texas asserts it can prove four states violated the U.S. Constitution in an election that affects all Americans, so Texas should be heard. Everyone would benefit from clarity about what the U.S. Constitution requires of states as they administer federal elections."
This is not the first time Schmidt has waded into similar issues. In November, he signed onto a brief supporting an effort from Pennsylvania Republicans to toss mail ballots that arrived after Election Day.
And he was joined by other prominent Kansas Republicans on Thursday, when U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, who will move to the U.S. Senate in January, and U.S. Rep. Ron Estes joined other congressional Republicans in signing on to a similar brief backing the Texas case.
Schmidt was the only one to acknowledge the Supreme Court’s decision not to take up the case, saying in a statement that "it is time to put this election behind us."
Still, Schmidt and his congressional counterparts were hit with blowback from Democrats and even some Republicans.
"There is never a good time to do a bad thing," Sen. Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said in a text message Wednesday. "As he has done so many times before, Derek Schmidt is wasting taxpayer dollars on a lawsuit that won’t see the light of day."
But Sen. Rick Wilborn, R-McPherson, said the pushback was much ado about nothing.
"I’ll gurantee you if the shoe was on the other foot and we had a Democratic (attorney general), they would have been clamoring for it," he said. "I have no problem with it."
Case could signal 2022 ambitions
Wilborn said he did not see any political motivations from Schmidt in filing the motion, saying he was in fact doing the will of the people of Kansas.
"Regardless of whether he was going to run for governor, he would have made this move," he said.
Bob Beatty, chair of the political science department at Washburn University, said that was entirely possible, noting that Schmidt has not shied from taking conservative positions in the past.
"Derek Schmidt is in a position to run for any number of offices but certainly, from what we have seen, he really likes being attorney general," he said.
Even still, Miller noted, there was not much political risk in signing onto a suit that was likely to be dismissed out-of-hand.
And with the electoral college voting on Monday, the judicial options are narrowing anyway for Trump and his supporters, experts say.
In a state like Kansas, however, which Trump won by 15 points, the political boost will not evaporate.
"It is good politics to associate yourself with this case or anything that strategically seems to be trying to give the election to Trump," Miller said. "Surveys are pretty clear about how average Republican voters feel about the election."
Schmidt was not the only potential 2022 candidate to weigh in on the lawsuit.
Former Gov. Jeff Colyer, who served from 2018 to 2019, was out in front of Schmidt, calling on Kansas to stand alongside their Texan counterparts almost as soon as the lawsuit was filed.
"By an overwhelming margin, Kansas voters supported President Trump," Colyer tweeted. "A threat to election security anywhere is a threat to election security everywhere. To protect our voice, Kansas needs to be in this fight."
There has been widespread speculation that Colyer was interested in another run at the governor’s mansion.
He was defeated by former Secretary of State Kris Kobach in the 2018 primary by the narrowest of margins, with Kobach going on to lose to Kelly in the general election.
Beatty said all signs pointed to Colyer, who prominently campaigned for Republican candidates up and down the ballot in 2020, making another run in 2022.
"Politics-wise, he has been signaling since his lost the primary that he is at least very interested in running again in Kansas," he said.
A host of other potential candidates exist, as well. Wink Hartman, who Kobach tapped as his pick for lieutenant governor in the 2018 bid, is expected to consider a run.
U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran has also been the subject of widespread speculation, although a spokesperson said last month that he would be seeking another term in Washington, with the U.S. Senate election also set for 2022.
And U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is a constant source of intrigue, although many expect him to focus his attention on a 2024 run at the White House.
David Kensinger, a veteran GOP consultant, did note the danger of an overly competitive primary for Republicans, especially given the state’s August primary, which is relatively late by national standards.
Candidates would need to be cautious that they don’t exhaust their financial reserves before the general, he said.
"If Republicans don’t come to some sort of coalescence there is the danger of weakening the eventual nominee," Kensinger said.
As 2022 cycle kicks off, Kelly to have new ticket
Still, conservatives have designs on dinging Kelly’s potential hopes for a second term.
For her part, the governor has not committed to running and has said she is focused on her work, including the state’s COVID-19 pandemic response.
Still, in the last two decades, no Democrat has won a statewide election in a year in which their party controlled the White House.
If Kelly does seek re-election, she will do so with a new member on her ticket. The governor tapped Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers to fill the expected state treasurer vacancy on Thursday.
A variety of names have been rumored as a potential replacement, including Commerce Secretary David Toland and a bevy of state legislators. Kelly will announce her pick Monday.
The choice will likely not be as outside-the-box as when Democrat Gov. Kathleen Sebelius considered Bill Snyder, the longtime football coach at Kansas State, to be her lieutenant.
But Beatty said Kelly should consider a more unconventional name for the ticket, particularly to boost someone with a political future of their own.
"It is a chance ... to identify somebody and hopefully let them shine," he said.
While the behind-the-scenes political maneuvering will continue, those who wish to forget about elections will have a few more months of relief.
Colyer formally announced his 2018 gubernatorial run in August of 2017 – about 15 months before the election. Kobach announced his bid earlier in the summer in June.
And while Kensinger said candidates may wade in sooner ahead of the 2022 election, he noted the state’s campaign finance laws would limit a candidate from declaring too early on.
Still, he said, it was unsurprising that the 2022 race was kicking off so soon after the dust settled on the last round of campaigns.
"We are voting earlier than ever and folks are campaigning earlier than ever," Kensinger said.