Sen. Dennis Pyle has needed signatures to get on Kansas ballot for governor — with some help from Democrats

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Sen. Dennis Pyle announced Monday he had nearly twice the number of signatures necessary to get on the ballot as an independent gubernatorial candidate in November.
Sen. Dennis Pyle announced Monday he had nearly twice the number of signatures necessary to get on the ballot as an independent gubernatorial candidate in November.

Sen. Dennis Pyle announced Monday he had almost 4,000 more signatures than necessary to get on the ballot as an independent gubernatorial candidate in November, although the Kansas secretary of state's office must still formally review the petitions.

Pyle, a Hiawatha independent, has long been one of the most conservative members of the Legislature, though it appears he got a boost from Democrats seeking to undercut the Republican gubernatorial frontrunner, Attorney General Derek Schmidt. 

He announced his intent to secure the 5,000 signatures needed to get on the ballot in June. In an interview, he confirmed he had gotten 8,894 signatures, giving him a wide berth in the event some of those who signed aren't registered voters in Kansas.

More: Controversial state senator Dennis Pyle announces run for Kansas governor as an independent

Democrats seek to boost Pyle's campaign, help Gov. Laura Kelly

Pyle's presence on the ballot would be disruptive for Schmidt. While it is unclear how many votes Pyle might receive, he would likely pull almost exclusively from Schmidt's total, boosting Gov. Laura Kelly.

Indeed, Kelly supporters have helped Pyle gather signatures, though it is unclear how many of the 8,894 are registered Democrats.

Abortion-rights organizers were gathering signatures for Pyle at a protest on Saturday and other Democrat and Democrat-affiliated groups have been seen statewide doing likewise.

In a statement, Shannon Pahls, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, said Pyle was "knowingly providing Laura Kelly the only path to a second term."

CJ Grover, Schmidt's campaign manager, echoed that sentiment.

"While Democrats might have gotten their spoiler, Laura Kelly is still going to lose the election because Kansans know a vote for fake conservative Dennis Pyle is a vote for four more years of Laura Kelly," Grover said in a statement.

More: Kansas governor's race between Laura Kelly, Derek Schmidt already likely to be most expensive ever

While Pyle acknowledged some signatories were likely Democrats, he said he encountered voters of all stripes who wanted "a real genuine conservative on the ballot."

"They were saying both candidates are liberal," he said. "I don't know their party. I didn't check party affiliation on petitioners. I didn't check party affiliation on the registered voters that we were walking door to door to. I can't know the motives of people's hearts."

Pyle said his racked up most of the signatures while going door to door but added his supporters garnered support from attendees at county fairs, gun shows and other events.

It isn't a guarantee that Pyle gets on the ballot. The secretary of state must review the petition, a process expected to take days, if not weeks.

More: Kansas Sens. Jerry Moran and Roger Marshall split as Senate Republicans block toxic burn pit bill

In 2018, when independent Greg Orman's petition was challenged, about 300 signatures were struck down.

Orman's campaign provides a blueprint of sorts for Pyle, though the Johnson County businessman ultimately received only 6.5% of the vote.

Pyle’s conservative brand has focused heavily on such topics as election security, successfully championing a Legislative Post Audit report on the state’s election policies and the security of voting machines.

He also has pushed for measures to block future government restrictions on COVID-19, among other issues, though he has often clashed with Republican legislative leaders.

Pyle said, if he succeeds in getting on the ballot, his campaign will next determine whether it will seek to participate in general election debates, as well as developing a more formal platform.

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.

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Sen. Dennis Pyle has signatures for independent Kansas governor run