TOPEKA (Kan.) — Democratic governor. Laura Kelly spent 18 months arguing with Kansas’ legislator Republicans about COVID-19. She imposed and extended a stay at-home order in the early days of the pandemic, then issued a short statewide mandate for a mask and attempted to limit worship services. All this while facing protests from the GOP.

In November, Kelly had her first reservations about Democratic President Joe Biden’s vaccination mandates. This was just two days after Republican Glenn Youngkin defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the election to become Governor of Virginia. Two weeks later, Kelly signed a bill to help Kansas workers resist vaccine mandates. This proposal was opposed by even the GOP-friendly Kansas Chamber of Commerce.

Kelly’s actions signaled her attempts to appeal to moderate Republican voters and GOP-leaning independents, which she will need in order to win a difficult reelection election next year in a heavily Republican state.

Kelly, like Democratic governors in Michigan or Wisconsin, will attempt to win a second term despite midterm political headwinds favoring Republicans. Kelly is trying to win in a state that Donald Trump won twice, and where Republicans are energized by opposition to Biden’s vaccine mandates. She will likely avoid a serious primary fight.

Some Democrats have been annoyed by her attempt to gain ground in the center of the political spectrum in the short-term. Others argue that the tactic might work if she emphasizes that Kansas has a stable budget, and that its public schools are fully funded.

“Democrats need to remember that she’s doing it to win reelection,” stated Mike Swenson who has been a Democratic strategist in Kansas City for more than four decades.

He said, “We can appeal the moderates — absolutely.”

Kelly stated that she would use science to address the pandemic. Republican legislators used their legislative supermajorities in order to force Kelly to accept greater local control over decisions regarding masks and business restrictions. This allowed many communities to reject the recommendations of public health officials. They were critical of her decision to make vaccines available early for prisoners.

She surprised liberal activists and Democrats by questioning Biden’s vaccination mandates, and signed the bill quickly. This law gives workers unemployment benefits in the event they refuse shots or lose their jobs. It also allows them to request religious exemptions without any questions.

Some Democrats also felt she was closer to Republican leaders. Multiple Democratic legislators said that they were informed of her plans to sign bill by their GOP colleagues.

Christopher Reeves, a Kansas City-area consultant who was formerly a member of the Democratic National Committee, said, “It’s an enormous, huge gamble.”

The measure was signed by Kelly less than one week after the head of the state health department abruptly resigned. Kelly was present at many news conferences with Dr. Lee Norman, who wore a white lab coat and was visible in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. Internal emails revealed an internal dispute over pandemic messaging. Norman recently claimed that Kelly’s administration fired him for COVID-19 politics.

Kelly’s position in the political centre on vaccines contrasts strongly with her support for abortion access, and LGBTQ rights.

Kelly stated in an interview with the Associated Press that her decision-making process is not influenced by “what voters it will keep in my camp.” She cited major bipartisan legislation regarding school funding and transportation funding to illustrate her approach.

She stated, “It’s only way to govern and it’s the best way to govern.”

Even though Kelly and GOP lawmakers were at odds early in the pandemic she still praised Trump’s response for outbreaks in meatpacking plants. He later stated that she had done a “fantastic job” in dealing with the pandemic.

Another example of appealing to Republican-minded voter is environmental issues. Biden’s efforts to save the habitat of the lesser prairie chickens were resisted by her administration. This raises concerns about whether energy and agriculture production will be limited. Kelly’s administration also resisted Biden’s push for 30% preservation of the nation’s land before 2030, which critics label a land grab.

A racial justice committee was formed by her after the Minnesota murder of George Floyd. She didn’t intervene in the Legislature when the proposals were stalled.

Kelly also proposed Wednesday that he give a $250 rebate to Kansas residents who have filed state income tax returns last year. Married couples filing jointly will receive $500. Kelly had vetoed three GOP plans for permanent income tax cuts within three years. Kelly called these measures fiscally irresponsible.

Bob Beatty, a Washburn University of Topeka political science professor, said that “it’s just the truth of being a Democratic Governor in Kansas.” “You need to be somewhere in the middle, and sometimes in the middle-right.”

Although Democrats haven’t won a U.S. Senate election in Kansas for nearly 90 years, they have been successful in trading governor’s offices back and forth with Republicans in the past 50 years.

Swenson stated that the formula was “simple” and involves gaining votes in the 10 most populous counties of the state, while avoiding losing the remaining 95. Kelly basically followed this path to victory in 2018.

Kelly’s 2018 win was also helped by Kris Kobach, the polarizing Trump ally. Her take-no-prisoners style alienated moderates. Kelly’s likely Republican opponent in 2018 is Derek Schmidt (the state’s three-term Attorney General).

Schmidt is running to be an anti-abortion and small-government attorney general. However, Schmidt will follow the example of Kansas Republicans such as former U.S. Senator Pat Roberts or the late Bob Dole. Schmidt is pragmatic enough not to alienate moderates.

Kelly hired a reelection campaign manger to prepare him for 2022. This manager was the one who led Democrats’ successful 2020 effort to flip a Republican seat in Georgia. Shelbi Dantic was also the Montana deputy campaign manager for U.S. Senator Jon Tester in 2018, narrowly winning reelection.