Republican U.S. House members back Derek Schmidt as party aims to unify in governor's race

Andrew Bahl
Topeka Capital-Journal
From left, U.S. Reps. Jake LaTurner, Ron Estes and Tracey Mann all announced they were backing Attorney General Derek Schmidt in the gubernatorial race Tuesday, as Republicans aim to rally around Schmidt following former Gov. Jeff Colyer's decision to exit the race Monday.

Kansas' three Republican members of the U.S. House announced Tuesday they were endorsing Attorney General Derek Schmidt in the race for governor, a move that further underscores Republican efforts to rally around Schmidt a day after rival Jeff Colyer exited the race.

Colyer's move, which was prompted by the former governor's diagnosis of prostate cancer, changed the dynamics of the race, shifting the GOP primary from a potentially prolonged fight between two top-tier candidates to a race that is Schmidt's to lose.

More:Jeff Colyer drops out of Kansas governor's race, citing cancer, clearing GOP path for Derek Schmidt

The backing of U.S. Reps. Jake LaTurner, Tracey Mann and Ron Estes comes as Republicans aim to unify the party behind Schmidt ahead of a potential showdown with Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly in next year's general election.

"The Sunflower State needs Derek Schmidt — a proven leader who has successfully fought for Kansas values in court and held liberal administrations in Washington accountable for their gross overreach," the group of lawmakers said in a statement. "He’s rightfully earned the support of law enforcement, pro-life advocates, and everyday citizens across Kansas." 

Mann initially backed Colyer after serving as his lieutenant governor in 2018. LaTurner and Estes had not previously endorsed either of the two candidates.

The endorsement was followed Tuesday afternoon Kansas House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, also announcing his support for Schmidt. Hawkins had not previously favored a candidate.

While other GOP candidates may well enter the race, they would be risking the ire of top GOP officials, who have effectively committed to Schmidt as their best hope of unseating Kelly.

In a statement Monday, Kansas Republican Party chair Mike Kuckelman said the party was "unified" around Schmidt.

More:Top Senate Republican, Majority Leader Larry Alley, backs Derek Schmidt in governor's race

Even when Colyer was in the race, many of the top-tier endorsements — and the fundraising and campaigning boost they carry — were trending toward Schmidt.

House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, elected to endorse Schmidt rather than embark on a gubernatorial run of his own, and a bevy of legislators have followed suit. Party heavyweights and former U.S. Sens. Bob Dole and Pat Roberts also backed Schmidt in July.

It is unclear when U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., who backed Colyer at an event formally launching his gubernatorial run, might endorse Schmidt.

Andrew Bahl is a senior statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at abahl@gannett.com or by phone at 443-979-6100.