Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach kicked off a race for state attorney general Thursday, aiming his hardline immigration and voting policy politics at the state's top legal and law enforcement office.
Kobach called the office a last line of defense against policies pushed by President Biden and Democratic leaders in Congress. He raised concerns about limiting gun rights, the federal government setting election laws and immigration policy.
"If the Biden administration tries to take away our Second Amendment rights here in Kansas, they'll have to get through me first," Kobach said at an event in Wichita announcing his run. "If the Biden administration tries to relocate illegal aliens to Kansas in violation of the standards of federal law, they'll have to get through me first."
Kobach raised the profile of the secretary of state's office by bringing it to the forefront of voter security fights. That office typically flew under the radar.
With duties in law enforcement and representing the state in court as attorney general, Kobach would hold an even more powerful platform for pushing those issues.
Should he win the Republican primary and the general election — he's got deep support among conservatives, and just as strong opposition from moderates and Democrats — he'd enter the job with a national profile rare for a state attorney general even rarer for a Kansas politician.
His latest move comes after high-profile losses for the aggressively conservative Republican — losing the governor's race to Democrat Laura Kelly in 2018 and falling short of the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2020.
Kobach has also been a close ally of former President Donald Trump, winning Trump's 11th-hour endorsement in the GOP primary for governor. Kobach also led a voter fraud commission created by Trump that Trump dissolved after pushback from states and a lack of evidence of widespread cheating. Kobach defended Trump's unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in the 2016 and 2020 elections. He also advised the president on immigration issues.
Kobach said he'd work to defend any abortion restrictions approved by state lawmakers.
"When the Legislature passes a law to protect the unborn or to protect our way of life in a manner the Left does not like, the ACLU and its allies inevitably sue," Kobach said in a news release. "The attorney general must have the expertise and the willingness to defend our laws in court."
The Kansas Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that the Kansas Constitution protects the right to an abortion. Voters will decide in the August 2022 primary, when Kobach seeks his party's nomination for attorney general, whether to reverse that ruling.
Critics of the amendment say it could open the door to lawmakers approving much stricter abortion laws or even an outright ban. Supporters say it's needed to protect regulations Kansas has already imposed on abortion.
Kobach had filed documents late Wednesday night to appoint a treasurer for his campaign. That's the initial step for raising money.
After losing the governor's race, some Republican groups turned on him during his 2020 run for the U.S. Senate. They argued nominating him would risk losing the office to a Democrat. Kobach ultimately lost the GOP primary to then-U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall.
Serving as attorney general would bring Kobach back into a statewide office — a potentially bigger stage than what he had as secretary of state. Even in that job, a largely record-keeping job that politicians often use as a stepping stone, he built a national reputation as an immigration hardliner and for pressing often-refuted claims about the prevalence of voter fraud.
Kobach pushed through the passage of a strict Kansas voting law that required proof of citizenship, arguing it kept elections secure. Critics said it prevented thousands of eligible Kansans from registering to vote.
The law was eventually knocked down in court, and he faced judicial sanctions for how he performed in the case. His arguments before the Kansas Supreme Court brought him chastisements from the judge.
In the years following his 2018 loss to Kelly, Kobach served as director and general counsel for We Build The Wall — a 501(c)4 nonprofit that was crowdsourcing millions of dollars to build a private border wall on the country's southern border. The group's leaders, except Kobach, were later charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
It's still very early in the race, so there's time for candidates to change their minds and run for different offices or drop their races altogether.
Abigail Censky of the Kansas News Service and Nadya Faulx of KMUW contributed to this report.