HUTCHINSON — Gubernatorial candidates Kris Kobach, Laura Kelly and Greg Orman pointedly delivered policy appeals on education, immigration, agriculture and a dozen other issues Saturday in a raucous Kansas State Fair debate that successfully pulled crowd members into the melee.

Hardly a statement was left unscathed by an audience of 1,800 people intent on offering perspectives on a political race the candidates proclaimed to be pivotal for the state.

"The stakes have never been so high and the choices have never been so clear," said Kelly, a Democratic senator from Topeka. "I'm the only thing standing between Kris Kobach and the governor's office."

Kobach, a Lecompton Republican who narrowly survived the GOP primary against Gov. Jeff Colyer in August, said he would serve as governor just as he had done the past eight years as secretary of state. He also said Orman's centrism was nothing more than a facade.

"If I say I'm going to do something, I'm gonna do it," Kobach said. "If you're a liberal Democrat, like some of the people shouting are, you have two great choices. You can have the official Democrat and the de facto Democrat."

Orman, a Johnson County businessman and independent candidate for governor, said the work of state government during the next five years would define the state for several decades. He said Kelly and Kobach were members of a Topeka political establishment that compromised the state's fortunes by worrying more about winning elections than serving the common good.

"The establishment has taken us badly off track and spurred two decades of decline. If you want that, you've got two pretty good choices on stage," Orman said.

Libertarian Jeff Caldwell and independent Rick Kloos were the only candidates for governor excluded from the open-air political clash that traditionally expects audience members to rely upon cowbells and other means of expression to define their political leanings. Kloos and Caldwell, holding campaign signs aloft, attempted to stand on the stage with the other candidates but were ushered away.

"I think it demonstrates a corporate control over the political process," Caldwell said of the debate sponsored by WIBW Radio with questions asked by a panel of Kansas journalists.

Kloos, who wore tape over his mouth during the 90-minute debate, said he was disappointed that Kansans didn't get an opportunity to hear from all five candidates on the ballot.

"Moving forward," he said, "we are calling on Laura Kelly, Greg Orman and Kris Kobach to demand that all candidates are allowed to participate in all future debates and forums."

Battle lines were obvious in the crowd as Kelly's supporters wore white T-shirts, Orman's people were clad in light blue and Kobach's advocates were decked out in dark blue. Policy differences among the candidates were on display as they talked about school safety, state financing of education and the potential for district consolidation.

Kelly and Orman said schoolchildren wouldn't be safer if teachers began carrying concealed firearms, while Kobach defended the strategy.

"We defend our president with guns. We even defend celebrities with guns. We defend our schoolchildren with a sign that says, 'This is a gun-free zone.' The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," Kobach said.

Kobach said public schools were top heavy with administrators and at least 75 cents of every tax dollar devoted to education ought to be tied to a classroom component. Orman said districts had voluntarily learned how to build in purchasing efficiencies and there was no need for mandated consolidation. Kelly said the tax experiment of Gov. Sam Brownback led to defunding of schools that must be corrected with the $525 million, five-year program adopted by the 2018 Legislature.

The three candidates waded into the subject of immigration policy and found consensus on the need for a more secure border, but gaps existed on other points. Orman said it would be impractical to round up and deport 11 million illegal immigrants and that such a move would decimate the southwest Kansas economy.

Kelly said comprehensive immigration reform was an obligation of the federal government — not, as Kobach claimed, the domain of a governor.

"Our congressional delegation needs to do its job," Kelly said.

Kobach slammed his key rivals by claiming they were for amnesty and for supporting the offering of in-state college tuition rates to children of undocumented immigrants. He said many disagreed with Kelly and Orman on those policies, because "illegal means illegal."

Kobach hailed Trump's trade war with China and other countries, while Orman described piling on tariffs as a risky venture that could cause massive damage to the state's agriculture sector. Orman said he hoped President Donald Trump's gamble paid off, but he was concerned about rebuilding supply lines once they were broken by negotiation stalemates.

The three major candidates praised Brownback for beginning a serious conversation in Kansas about dealing with declining levels in the aquifer that provides much of the water to irrigate crops. The underground reservoir is being overused and voluntary attempts to limit consumption haven't taken deep root.

Orman said the state had a golden opportunity to build the economy by serving as a transportation hub for the nation. Kelly vowed to bring relief to communities by expanding eligibility for Medicaid, a move blocked by Brownback and Colyer. Kobach said a top priority was cutting sales and property taxes, as well as slashing state spending.

In response to a speed-round question, the candidates were asked to choose between a deep-fried Oreo and a corn dog. Orman and Kobach chose the cookie concoction, while Kelly favored a more bizarre state fair staple — the deep-fried cocktail.

Kelly and Orman shared support for medicinal use of marijuana and reduction of penalties for possession of small amounts of pot. Kobach said pharmaceutical companies would eventually market a pill form of marijuana to meet medical needs.

The premature departure from the governor's office by Democrat Kathleen Sebelius and Republican Brownback led to a question about whether Orman, Kelly and Kobach would pledge to remain for their entire elected term. Interest in the issue has been driven by speculation that Kobach could take a job in the Trump administration or run for the U.S. Senate in 2020.

"I seriously doubt Donald Trump is going to offer me a position," said Kelly, the Democrat. "If he does, I'll say no."

Orman said he would fulfill his elected term in office, while Kobach said it was his intention to finish two terms as governor. Kobach did use the moment to brag about his relationship with Trump, who endorsed his candidacy.

"We as a country need to stand firm behind the president," Kobach said to both applause and boos.

Orman accused Kobach of having a distorted view of what conservatism means, suggesting he might consider former President Ronald Reagan a political liberal.