Democratic Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly and Republican challenger and state Attorney General Derek Schmidt will face off in a debate Wednesday for the second and final time ahead of November’s election. The televised showdown in Overland Park, the state’s second most populous city, is being hosted by the Johnson County Bar Association.
The debate will be lively if it is anything like their first encounter — a heated showdown last month on an outdoor stage at the Kansas State Fair, where the two candidates showcased their partisan differences as they clashed over education, abortion, the coronavirus pandemic and other issues.
Kelly is the only Democratic governor running for re-election in a state carried in 2020 by former President Trump. The former four-term state senator from Topeka, who was elected governor in 2018, said she deserved another four years steering Kansas after working with the Republican-dominated legislature to balance the red state’s budget and increasing the state’s rainy-day fund to $1 billion.
She also spotlighted the agreement to fully fund public education after years of legal differences, touted that she signed into law a bill to eliminate the state’s sales tax on groceries and showcased Kansas’s low unemployment and her efforts to create and retain jobs.
Schmidt, who served alongside Kelly in the state Senate before winning three elections as Kansas attorney general, touted his conservative credentials and stressed that he would fight for individual freedoms and the Constitution. He heavily criticized Kelly’s actions and orders during the COVID-19 crisis, including the closing of schools and some businesses amid the worst pandemic to strike the globe in a century. Additionally, he targeted the governor for state spending made possible by the surge in federal aid amid the coronavirus pandemic over the past two and a half years.
At the first debate, Schmidt said that he respected the August 2 vote by Kansans to overwhelmingly reject a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have allowed the legislature to greatly restrict or ban abortion. Kelly rejected Schmidt’s argument that the governor favors abortion with no restrictions up until birth.
Schmidt, who was part of an unsuccessful effort to overturn then-President Trump’s 2020 election loss, was endorsed by Trump at the beginning of the year.
The most recent public opinion polls indicate a very close contest between the governor and the attorney general.
Libertarian nominee Seth Cordell and state Sen. Dennis Pyle, a conservative lawmaker running for governor as an independent, will not take part in the debate because neither topped the polling threshold of 7% mandated by organizers. Neither candidate participated in the first debate
Unlike the first showdown at the State Fair, this televised debate is a private event, open only to members of the bar association.