Gov. Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach anxiously waited early Wednesday for the state's most populous county to report ballot totals that will decide the GOP nomination in the governor's race.
Kobach held an 876-vote lead when he emerged at 12:45 a.m. to thanks the dozens of supporters who remained at his watch party in Topeka. He said Johnson County's election office was working with a new computer system, and the county wouldn't finish until 4 a.m.
While their race was too close to call, Sen. Laura Kelly clobbered her Democratic opponents to secure her party's nomination, riding a wave of support from women who were expected to be a driving force behind the surge in turnout for a party not used to having a contested primary.
Colyer and Kobach engaged in a grueling, sometimes heated fight as they courted Republicans. President Donald Trump threw his support behind Kobach in a Monday morning tweet, but it wasn't clear what impact it had on the race.
Kobach thanked his supporters, family, staff members and the owner of a gun-mounted Jeep he used in parades. Emotions may be raw, he said, but he encouraged them to support Colyer if he prevails.
"I want everybody to join together regardless and stand up for the principals we all believe in," Kobach said, "and come together quickly and effectively so we can advance our Republican principals against the Democrat and independent in November."
Kendall Marr, a spokesman for Colyer, said he remained optimistic.
"Everything is riding on Johnson County at this point," Marr said.
In an interview with Bloomberg Radio earlier in the day, Colyer downplayed the president's impact on the race. He touted the state's improved credit outlook and legislation he signed to add more than $500 million to public schools.
"This is not an establishment versus insurgent," Colyer said. "Both of us are strong supporters of the president. ... This is about how you want to govern. Do you want the governor to be a workhorse, or do you want a show pony? Do you want to get things done?"
Former state Sen. Jim Barnett had about 9 percent of the vote, and 8 percent cast ballots for Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer.
Kelly, the lone woman in the race, arrived at her watch party in Topeka at about 10 p.m. to accept the Democratic nomination after she took a clear and early lead over opponents.
She touted her leadership positions in the Senate, where she has served Topeka since taking office in 2005, and her in-depth knowledge of state government.
"I know where all the problems are, and I know how to fix them," Kelly said.
She will run as "the education governor," Kelly said.
"Tonight's victory was clear. It was very decisive and it was the result of Kansans from all backgrounds coming together to hear one voice and to say one thing, 'Enough,' " she said. "Even as we celebrate tonight, the damage that has been done to our state still hangs over us. It's there. These last eight years in Kansas have been a complete departure from who we are as Kansans."
Kelly lumped former Gov. Sam Brownback together with Colyer and Kobach, criticizing them for "putting a narrow political agenda" before Kansas kids. She said it is time to leave behind the rigid ideology that has driven state government.
"Kansans are ready to end this era defined by politicians serving their own needs, their own interests," she said.
With about 50 percent of the party's votes, she soared to victory over former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, who had 22 percent, and former agriculture secretary Josh Svaty, who had 18 percent. More than 123,000 votes were cast in the race.
Brewer told his supporters they helped send a message to Topeka that the status quo won't be tolerated, and people expect more from their leaders.
"But now we must unify as a party and support the nominee," he said. "The stakes are too high to remain divided. We must take the same energy and passion to make sure the Republican nominee is not the next governor of Kansas."
Kelly and the Republican winner will join independent Greg Orman on the November ballot.
"Make no mistake about it," Orman said. "Both candidates will put their party and the special interests that control them ahead of the Kansas people and this state for purely partisan gain."
Meanwhile, in New York City, Andy Maskin desperately tried to find someone to concede his race to. Maskin paid to get on the ballot in the GOP primary but was removed by an oversight panel because he doesn't live in Kansas.
Maskin said he tried to contact party leaders and even attempted calling the hotels where Colyer and Kobach were camped out Tuesday night.
"Man politics is tough," Maskin said. "It's bad enough to lose but not even being able to concede is such a pain."
Morgan Chilson contributed to this report.