Intense Infighting With Kansas GOP Poised To Elect New Leader – Latest News Update

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republicans are battling over who will lead the Kansas GOP for the next two years, and frustrations over two major election losses last year in the GOP-leaning state have added to the acrimony the party already has on the national level.

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The Kansas Republican Party state committee was set up Saturday to choose the officers who will oversee party operations through the 2024 election. The contest for chairmanship is between Helen Van Etten, a former member of the Republican National Committee, and Mike Brown, who promoted election conspiracy theories last year during a failed run for Secretary of State in Kansas.

Some Republicans view the contest as a battle between the party establishment and an anti-establishment wing. Perhaps the main issue is who is perceived as the loudest and most aggressive fighter.

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The vote comes three months after Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly narrowly won re-election, and the only Democrat on the state’s congressional delegation, U.S. Representative Sharice Davids, won another term. Because the GOP has an advantage in voter registration, Kansas Democrats win major races by attracting votes from moderate Republicans and independent voters, while Republicans generally prevail when the party is united.

“I just hope it doesn’t get out of hand,” Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson, a Republican from the Wichita region, said ahead of Saturday’s meeting. “Divided houses fall, that’s just how it is. There must be unity in the party.”

The power struggle is especially fierce in Johnson County near Kansas City, the state’s most populous county, home to both Brown and outgoing state chairman Mike Kuckelman. The county’s affluent suburbs were once GOP strongholds, but since 2018 they’ve become remarkably more Democratic — and have been critical to Kelly’s and David’s victories.

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The new Johnson County GOP chairman, an ally of Brown who was concerned about the county’s “purple creep,” told members of the GOP state committee that Kuckelman had been “absolutely abhorrent” in his treatment of Brown. Kuckelman fired back with several emails, including one accusing Brown of being soft-spoken in his opposition to abortion and supporting gun rights.

Republicans also fought to reelection RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel last month. She faced opposition from the ultra-Make America Great Again wing of the party, despite being selected for the job by former President Trump in 2016.

In Michigan, two statewide GOP candidates who denied President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory were looking for party offices. Last year, Republicans supporting Trump in Nebraska fired the state chairman at a tumultuous convention after losing a Trump-backed candidate in the GOP primary for governor.

In Kansas, Van Etten, a retired audiologist, has been a GOP activist for decades and served on the national committee from 2008 to 2020. She is also a former member of the State Council overseeing the state’s higher education system. She has not held an elective.

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She is described as the established candidate. When asked about that, Van Etten said if she’s considered incumbent because of her years of service to the GOP, then “everyone on the state committee, 70% of them are incumbents.”

“If you say the establishment is who has been an elected official before, then I am not,” she said.

Brown, another longtime GOP activist, is a construction contractor who served on the Johnson County Commission before losing his seat in 2020. He lost the GOP primary for secretary of state to incumbent Republican Scott Schwab, who has agreed to the integrity of the Kansas election.

While Brown declined to be interviewed until after Saturday’s rally, he told Republicans in one email: “Obviously I’m scaring/rattling the establishment because they keep coming at me full blast, but I’m not leaving or stopping .”

In a December email to fellow Republicans, Brown called for McDaniel to step down as RNC chairman.

“There are quite a few Republicans who are frustrated with the status quo,” said state senator Tim Shallenburger, a former GOP chairman and state treasurer. “I guess if you’re for Mike Brown, you want change, you want more bold, loud leadership.”

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While Kuckelman has not formally endorsed anyone in the presidential race, he praised Van Etten as a “unifier” ahead of the meeting.

“People know her nationally in the Republican Party,” Kuckelman added.

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