(CNN)Democratic Kansas state Sen. Laura Kelly has been elected the state's next governor, CNN projects, defeating Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
Democrat Laura Kelly wins Kansas governor race, CNN projects
Kobach's loss is a blow to both Kansas Republicans, who hadn't lost a statewide race in nearly a decade, and President Donald Trump, who enlisted Kobach as an adviser soon after winning the 2016 election and then made him the leader of a panel on voter fraud after taking office.
That initiative, dismissed by most Democrats as a farce to advance GOP efforts to suppress the vote, faltered badly. But Kobach's standing with Trump never wavered.
"He's tough, he's strong and I hated that he ran because I would have loved to have brought him into my administration," Trump said at an October rally in Kansas. "In fact, if he loses, I'll bring him into my administration in two seconds."
Trump's backing — including a pre-primary endorsement -- was also key in helping Kobach unseat the current governor, fellow Republican Jeff Colyer, in the primary.
Kelly, who also overcame the candidacy of big-spending independent Greg Orman, which many Democrats had believed would siphon off anti-Kobach votes, ran on a moderate platform highlighting her years of work in the state Legislature.
She also had the support of former Republican Gov. Bill Graves, who joined her and former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on the trail during the final days of the campaign.
"Laura is the only choice to lead Kansas and end the Brownback-Kobach experiment for good," Sebelius said before the vote, tying Kobach to former Gov. Sam Brownback, whose administration dug the state into a deep financial hole before he left the post to become the US ambassador at large for international religious freedom.