TOPEKA, Kan. — Republican Kris Kobach promoted his campaign for Kansas governor during a recent parade by riding for the first time in a jeep with a replica machine gun mounted on back — and quickly drew the kind of the social media criticism that's hovered around him for years.
The Kansas City-area suburb that held the parade apologized to crowd members who were upset. But Kobach is not apologizing and said Tuesday he might use the jeep-with-gun even more than he initially intended. His campaign theme song is the late rock 'n' roll icon Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down," after all.
Kobach stirred outrage on the political center and left even before being elected Kansas secretary of state in 2010. Bringing a jeep-mounted replica machine gun to a parade is another example of how Kobach has distinguished himself in a seven-person GOP field for the Aug. 7 primary that includes less-colorful incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer.
He said his appearance at the parade caused a "snowflake meltdown" that shows how the far left is determined to make gun ownership "socially unacceptable." He acknowledged during an interview Tuesday that he's enjoying critics' reaction because, "It's so idiotic."
"We might use it more frequently than we otherwise would have," Kobach said of the jeep-with-gun. "My reaction is, 'No, I'm not going to apologize.' I'm going to make a point of using it and not standing down."
Kobach champions tough immigration and voter ID laws, calls for slashing taxes and government spending, and writes a regular Breitbart News column. He has advised President Donald Trump and was vice chairman of Trump's now-disbanded election fraud commission.
"Good politicians develop a brand, and they sell that brand, and he's doing that," said University of Kansas political scientist Patrick Miller. "He is practicing good theater-politics."
Kobach plans to have a fundraiser later this month with conservative rocker Ted Nugent, who called survivors of a mass shooting at a Florida high school "mushy brained children" for advocating gun control.
The planned appearance of the "Cat Scratch Fever" rocker prompted criticism from Kansas House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat. While Ward objects to Nugent's stance on gun control, the Democratic leader pointed to lyrics in songs like "Jailbait," which Ward said objectify young women and underage girls and are not acceptable amid the #MeToo movement.
Kobach shrugged off the criticism, telling reporters: "I think you could probably go through just about any rock 'n' roll musician's lyrics from the late 1970s and early 1980s and find some lyrics that would be objectionable."
Kobach said the reaction to his jeep-with-gun ride at the parade was largely positive.
But Johnny Lewis, the pastor of the Shawnee Community Church, tweeted that there was an "audible gasp" from the crowd. Lewis did not return a telephone message Tuesday seeking comment, but he said in a Facebook posting that he spoke as a concerned parent and as a political independent who owns hunting rifles himself.
Bob Beatty, a Washburn University political scientist, said the sight of such a military weapon might have been jarring following numerous mass shootings in the U.S. and elsewhere.
But in a crowded primary field, Kobach could win the GOP nomination and oust Colyer with less than 40 percent of the vote. And the general election race is likely to include the most serious independent candidate for governor in more than 80 years, Kansas City-area businessman Greg Orman, making it possible for a candidate to win with 40 percent or less.
Beatty said appearing in a parade on a jeep with a replica machine gun is powerful symbolism for gun-rights and Trump supporters that are a key part of Kobach's political base.
"A pathway to victory for Kris Kobach is to get his voters out," Beatty said. "It very well may have helped his campaign quite a bit."