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Kansas independent candidate wants to lure votes from Kobach

Kansas City-area businessman Greg Orman discusses his run for Kansas governor as an independent candidate during a Jan. 25, 2018, interview in Topeka, Kan. (John Hanna / Associated Press)
Kansas City-area businessman Greg Orman discusses his run for Kansas governor as an independent candidate during a Jan. 25, 2018, interview in Topeka, Kan. (John Hanna / Associated Press)
By Roxana Hegeman Associated Press

WICHITA, Kan. – Kansas election officials certified independent Greg Orman as a candidate for Kansas governor on Friday, and the businessman immediately tried to appeal to disaffected Republicans, who he said view GOP hopeful Kris Kobach as “incompetent and corrupt.”

Orman’s entry into the race presents a major obstacle to Democrats, who had hoped to lure the same moderate Republicans away from Kobach, a favorite of President Donald Trump because of his fervent support for tough immigration and voter ID laws.

The secretary of state’s office posted a short statement saying Orman had presented enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot in November.

Orman, 49, will face Democratic State Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka and Kobach, whose nomination was only settled this week after Gov. Jeff Colyer conceded in a primary with a razor-thin margin of some 350 votes out of more than 316,000 cast.

“I think there are lots of Kansas Republicans who view Kris Kobach as not only extreme but incompetent and corrupt and I think those Republicans … will be very attracted to my background,” Orman told the Associated Press in an interview after the announcement.

Democrats were gearing up for a potential legal challenge to Orman’s certification. Many Democrats have worried that Orman will pull votes away from Kelly, 68, making it far easier for the 52-year-old Kobach to win with less than a majority of the vote.

The GOP began a clean sweep of statewide and congressional races in 2010. But the state also has a solid bloc of moderate GOP and independent voters and a history over the past 50 years of alternating between electing Republican and Democratic governors. Orman says he can build a coalition starting with voters upset with both parties, and he cites the value of having an independent governor who will lack “natural political enemies.”

The certification of Orman as a candidate was made by the same office Kobach heads as secretary of state. But officials said the 10,260 signatures submitted by Orman were reviewed by individual counties and Kobach did not participate.

Orman ran as an independent against U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts in 2014 and did so well in initial polling that the Democratic candidate dropped out to create a better chance of toppling the veteran Republican. Orman lost by 10.5 percentage points after Roberts got campaign help from several GOP stalwarts, including Sarah Palin, Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Rand Paul.

Orman made the ballot by submitting more than 10,000 signatures in early August. He needed 5,000 valid signatures to qualify.

On Orman’s website, he says he supports stronger background checks for gun buyers, ending the sale of bump stocks and high-capacity magazines, setting a minimum age of 21 to buy an AR-15 or other semi-automatic weapon and requiring training and licensing for a concealed-carry permit. Orman said he supports the Second Amendment but would like to revisit which types of arms Americans have a right to own,

During the 2014 Senate race, Orman described himself as “pro-choice” and said abortion policy was a matter of settled law and the nation should move on.

Orman’s running mate John Doll is from Garden City and left the Republican Party to run for lieutenant governor.

An independent candidate for governor last came close to winning in 1932.

Orman graduated from Princeton in 1991 and founded Environmental Light Concepts, a firm that designed and installed energy-efficient lighting systems for commercial and industrial use. The company had more than 120 employees when a majority of it was sold to Kansas City Power and Light in 1996.

After a stint with KCP&L, Orman co-founded Denali Partners, a private equity firm, and later became managing member of Exemplar Holdings LLC, which oversees several innovation companies.

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