Johnson County native Ed O’Malley ends bid for Republican gubernatorial nomination

Ed O’Malley at his campaign kick-off in Overland Park last fall.

Ed O’Malley, the SM South graduate and former Roeland Park state legislator who has served as President and CEO of the Kansas Leadership Center in Wichita the past decade, today announced he was ending his bid to become the next governor of Kansas.

O’Malley, a moderate Republican who got his start in politics as an aide to Gov. Bill Graves, launched an exploratory campaign in January 2017, and spent the next 10 months criss-crossing the state on a listening tour, trying to gauge the issues most important to a diverse mix of Kansas communities, from small rural towns out west to his native Johnson County.

In October, he made his candidacy official with a series of kick-off events, including an energetic rally at the Overland Park Sheraton where he laid out a series of ambitious goals for the state, including “to have the best schools literally in the world.”

Well connected from his time in the legislature and leading the KLC, he had the support of a number of influential Johnson Countians, including former Overland Park Chamber of Commerce president and one-time candidate for lieutenant governor Mary Birch; Shawnee Mission Board of Education President Brad Stratton, who served as his campaign treasurer; and former state representative and JCCC Board of Trustees member Stephanie Sharp.

But in the months after he launched his campaign, O’Malley was not able to hit the fundraising benchmarks he’d set, ultimately leading to his decision to exit the crowded Republican field. His year-end campaign finance report showed contributions of $218,362 during 2017 and cash on hand of $158,067. Republican Jeff Colyer, who was sworn in as governor Wednesday, led the field with approximately $632,000 in contributions. Secretary of State Kris Kobach had $355,000.

O’Malley’s exit comes as a blow to the hopes of moderate Johnson County Republicans, who widely viewed him as their best hope to keep a more conservative candidate from winning the nomination. Jim Barnett, the party’s nominee in 2006 and a practicing physician, is now the lone candidate in the Republican field seen as running a moderate campaign. Barnett has significant resources — he has $514,349 cash-on-hand — but much of it comes from personal loans of more than $500,000 he made to his campaign.

Mark Hutton, a construction executive from Wichita who has ties to both conservative and moderate factions of the state’s party and who is also seeking the Republican nomination, praised O’Malley’s temperament Thursday.

“American politics needs more leaders like Ed O’Malley,” Hutton said in a statement. “He has an important voice on this stage. I know he’ll use it. Whomever the next governor is would be wise to listen to him.”

The strategic angles of the gubernatorial race in Kansas became considerably more complex last week when Independent Greg Orman, who resides in Fairway, announced he was officially entering the race. Orman, a successful businessman, showed contributions of $452,931 in his year-end report.

Here’s the statement O’Malley released on the decision to end his campaign today:

We have created the largest, widest grassroots support of any of the current candidates. I will never forget those who have been a part of that effort. Nevertheless, I have realized that the funding necessary to remain competitive through August and then November is beyond our reach. Therefore, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that now is not the time for this candidacy.

This campaign has always been about a hopeful, optimistic future for Kansas. The roundtable discussions, town-hall meetings and numerous meet and greets were informative and inspiring. Our listening tour made listening cool, and now other candidates are talking about how they will listen. The “Ed Talk” created buzz, shared a powerful message and captured attention. Our launch week was energizing, hopeful and uplifting. We brought so many new people into the political fold.

Kansans made it clear we need elected officials with the wisdom and skill to bring people together, the willingness to truly listen to differing perspectives and the courage to chart new ways forward.

I am thankful for so many supporters giving so much to this journey. Their commitment to our state didn’t begin or end with this campaign. We will find ways to continue to work together to create a better Kansas.

I am grateful to my Kansas Leadership Center colleagues who guided the organization so well while I’ve been on an unpaid leave of absence. Learning you are not indispensable is a sobering reality, but it confirms our message—there is leadership in every Kansan waiting for its chance.

And as you can imagine, I’m grateful for my family. This past year has been hectic, to say the least. I am so thankful to Joanna and our children Kate, Jack and Lizzie for their never-ending support for this effort.

Neither political party knows exactly how to solve our toughest problems. That’s why we need elected officials with the wisdom and skill to bring people together, the willingness to truly listen to differing perspectives and the courage to chart new ways forward. I may be leaving the campaign but I will never stop caring about solving those problems. I plan to help wherever I can!

I know many supporters will be disappointed. I am, too. I cannot help but feel as if I have let so many people down. Yet, the flip side of our shared optimism for the future of Kansas has to be brutal realism about what it will take to get there.

It was an honor to run this campaign. I pledge to continue working for the greater good of all Kansans.

Onward for Kansas!