By NOAH TABORDA
PITTSBURG— Sen. Kellie Warren and former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach repeatedly clashed Thursday over who was best suited to ensure a GOP victory on election night and battle Democratic administrations at the state and federal levels.
On one side was a candidate with experience in statewide office but blemishes on his election record. On the other was a Leawood Republican lawmaker who is actively pursuing change in the Legislature but without statewide experience. In the middle was Tony Mattivi, a former federal prosecutor, who contrasted himself with his opponents by arguing he was a career prosecutor while they were career politicians.
Mattivi faced questions about his conservative bona fides as well during the first attorney general debate in Pittsburg, the unofficial kickoff to the summer election season.
“What we care about as Americans will not be represented in the attorney general’s Office unless we have a conservative Republican with the track record you can look at and depend on and trust to win this tough election,” Warren said. “It’s too important to risk a candidate who says they’re conservative, but we don’t know. How can we know? Untested in the court of public opinion.”
Warren positioned herself as the only candidate with a winning history, in elections and with policies at the Statehouse including government overreach and the Value Them Both amendment on the August primary ballot. She pointed to Kobach’s defeat at the hands of Gov. Laura Kelly in 2018 and his losses in court to ACLU over proof of citizenship voter law as signs he could not be trusted to win in November.
“It’s not very careful thinking to think that any Republican can automatically win in the general election,” Warren said. “We have a candidate in this race who has already lost a statewide election to the left.”
But Kobach dismissed these criticisms, arguing his victory in a statewide election should instill more confidence than a legislative win.
“Winning a tiny little Johnson County, senate district or house district, that’s not like running a statewide election,” Kobach said. “Running statewide, there are a lot of things you learn on the trail. I have learned them, and I know how to win statewide, and we will win statewide.”
The Republican nominee for attorney general will likely face Democrat Chris Mann, a former police officer and prosecutor for the Wyandotte County District Attorney’s Office. The three GOP candidates had similar opinions on the topics ranging from the Second Amendment to government overreach to immigration, so much of the debate centered on experience and electability.
Warren touted her wins as a state representative and senator, asserting that Kansans could expect more of the same if she is elected.
Kobach emphasized his work with and in support of former President Donald Trump on immigration and leading his election fraud commission. His 2018 loss? It could be explained by a “blue wave” election for Democrats.
Mattivi said Kansans should rely on his decades of practical experience to serve as the state’s chief law enforcement official, including being the only candidate to work in the Kansas Attorney General’s Office. In addition, he served more than two decades as a federal prosecutor.
Of Warren, Mattivi warned she lacked experience in the courtroom. He noted that every attorney general — except Phill Kline, who held the role from 2003 to 2007 — had worked as a prosecutor, been a judge or worked in the attorney general’s office.
“If you insist that your chief law enforcement official actually be a law enforcement official, I am the only candidate in the race with those qualifications,” Mattivi said.