Matthew Leifheit

As two gubernatorial races heat up in Kansas and Florida, two President Donald Trump–endorsed Yale alumni — Kris Kobach LAW ’95 and Ron DeSantis ’01 — are both running campaigns under the Republican ticket. Kobach is leading in the polls, while DeSantis is trailing behind his Democratic opponent.

FLORIDA

Ron DeSantis ’01, former U.S. representative, is the Republican nominee for the governor of Florida against Democratic candidate Mayor of Tallahassee Andrew Gillum.

As a congressman for Florida’s 6th District, DeSantis has maintained a consistently conservative record, opposing abortion rights, gun control measures and the Affordable Care Act. On his gubernatorial campaign website, some of DeSantis’ platform points are to “End Judicial Activism” by appointing constitutional conservatives to the Florida Supreme Court, to disallow the creation of sanctuary cities in Florida and to keep Florida one of the lowest tax states in the nation.

DeSantis, who graduated from Yale with a degree in history, was also the captain of the Yale baseball team. After leaving New Haven, DeSantis attended Harvard Law School and served in the Navy. As a member of the Judge Advocate General Corps — the Navy’s military legal office, he was assigned to work for Joint Task Force Guantanamo. He also worked as the legal adviser to the commander of the Navy SEALs in Iraq, receiving medals for his service in that capacity.

In 2014, DeSantis won the Yale Baseball Man of the Year Award at the Yale Baseball Leadoff Dinner.

“He is truly a man of the people,” Yale baseball coach John Stuper said at the dinner, according to a press release from Yale Athletics. “I’m so proud to call him a former player of mine, but I’m even prouder to call him my friend.”

“I wasn’t someone destined to go to the Ivy League. … The fact that we had the camaraderie of Yale baseball made Yale a positive experience for me,” said DeSantis at the dinner.

Stuper could not be reached for comment on Monday evening.

DeSantis is looking to replace the outgoing Republican governor of Florida, Rick Scott, who is the Republican candidate for the Florida Senate race. Trump tweeted his support for DeSantis and disapproval of Gillum.

“Not only did Congressman Ron DeSantis easily win the Republican Primary, but his opponent in November is his biggest dream … a failed Socialist mayor named Andrew Gillum who has allowed crime & many other problems to flourish in his city. This is not what Florida wants or needs!” Trump wrote on his personal Twitter account on Aug. 29.

According to his campaign website, Gillum — born in Miami to a mother who drove a school bus and father who was a construction worker — was the first in his family to graduate from college at Florida A&M University. He went on to become the youngest person in history elected to the Tallahassee City Commission before becoming mayor. His website said that one of his first priorities is to appoint three diverse, qualified judges to the Supreme Court. The website also said that Gillum is the only candidate for governor who has fought the powerful gun lobby and won in court.

The Florida gubernatorial race caught nationwide attention when DeSantis said in a Fox News interview that the last thing the state needs to do is “monkey this up” by embracing Gillum’s socialist agenda.

Yale students hailing from Florida are weighing their options for governor leading up to Tuesday’s election.

Orven Mallari ’21, who is from Florida, said that DeSantis is a “Trump clone,” who often fails to come up with any original thoughts. He added that it was clear to him while watching the debates that DeSantis was unprepared to debate his ideology, instead parroting Trump as often as he could.

“DeSantis has an absolutely abhorrent platform based on fear and hate,” said Mallari. “I hope we don’t elect him governor.”

Mallari was elated to see Gillum win the Democratic nomination, who he says has vision and a lot of charisma.

Stephanie Malta ’21, from Miami, told the News that one of her major concerns in this election cycle is climate change — as it directly affects the lives of people from her hometown. She said whereas DeSantis shows no inclination to make environmental protection a priority, Gillum has spoken out in support of legislation to reduce Florida’s environmental footprint.

Malta also noted a DeSantis campaign advertisement showing DeSantis teaching his young daughter, who was playing with building blocks, to “build a wall.” She called the advertisement “very shocking” and said that she did not agree with its message and its normalization of the hateful rhetoric perpetrated by President Donald Trump.

KANSAS

Current Kansas Secretary of State Kobach is the Republican nominee in the state’s gubernatorial race in a tight race against Democratic nominee Laura Kelly. Kobach received a law degree from Yale, where he was an editor for the Yale Law Journal. He returned home to Kansas, serving as a law clerk in the United States Court of Appeals, and becoming a Constitutional Law professor at the University of Missouri in Kansas City.

According to Kobach’s official campaign website, he is “taking the lead on national security issues in the aftermath of 9/11” and is “leading the fight against voter fraud and illegal immigration.”

On Aug. 6, Donald Trump tweeted his support for Kobach in Kansas’s Republican primary, calling Kobach a strong and early supporter of his.

“He is a fantastic guy who loves his State and our Country – he will be a GREAT Governor and has my full & total Endorsement! Strong on Crime, Border & Military,” Trump tweeted.

Kobach won the Republican primary against incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer, who conceded a week after the primary election took place, in which absentee and provisional ballots brought Kobach’s lead to 345 votes out of 313,000 total votes cast, CNN reported.

Politico predicted that the gubernatorial race will lean GOP, adding that Kobach could benefit from a split between Kelly and independent Greg Orman. An Oct. 29 Emerson poll found Kobach at 44 percent and Kelly at 43 percent.

Though Kansas is entirely controlled by Republicans and voted for Trump in 2016 by 20 points, The Washington Post reported that a Democratic gubernatorial victory is still possible, adding that it is a very close race.

Yale law professor Akhil Amar ’80 LAW ’84 wrote in an Oct. 10 Yale Daily News op-ed that Yalies should not celebrate every notable Yale alum simply because they went to Yale. Amar added that he himself has no problem criticizing individual Yale Law graduates “however prominent or powerful.”

“For example: If there is anyone out in Kansas who reads this, please vote against would-be governor Kris Kobach LAW ’95 next month!” Amar said.

Amar did not respond to request for comment from the News.

Kobach’s opponent, Kelly, was elected to the Kansas Senate in 2004, and has served as its assistant minority leader for the Senate. The Washington Post reported that Kelly’s campaign has gained momentum in the weeks leading up to the campaign. She is endorsed by two of three living former Republican governors of Kansas, as well as former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, R-Kansas.

Kansas native Jessica Steffen ’20 said that though it is difficult to get a read on Kansas’ political atmosphere, she is hopeful that the state’s governorship will remain red, despite the media reporting a close race between Kobach and Kelly. She said that she expects the Republican Party to “reflect their extreme distaste over the Kavanaugh hearings with an increase in voter turnout.”

Noting that Trump won Kansas by more than 20 percentage points, she anticipates the similarities between Trump and Kobach — in demeanor, platform and rhetoric — will be well-received by Kansas voters.

“As a conservative Christian from Kansas, my vote is for Kris Kobach. In supporting national security, election integrity, pro-life policies and Christian family values, his platform resounds both with myself, and (I believe) with my state. Plus, he’s a Yale grad – Go Bulldogs!,” said Steffen.

Elections take place on Nov. 6.

Sammy Westfall | sammy.westfall@yale.edu .