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TOPEKA, Kan. — Kansas political icons Bob Dole and Pat Roberts on Tuesday endorsed Attorney General Derek Schmidt for governor in 2022 as Schmidt worked to solidify support among fellow Republicans early enough to blunt a serious primary challenge.

Dole, a 97-year-old former U.S. Senate majority leader and the 1996 GOP presidential nominee, said in a statement that Schmidt “has what it takes to win.” Roberts, 85, a four-term U.S. senator who retired this year, called Schmidt “a proven winner.”

Schmidt has sought to make electability a key theme, with former Gov. Jeff Colyer as his main rival for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s reelection. Colyer narrowly lost his 2018 primary to polarizing conservative Kris Kobach, who alienated moderate GOP and independent voters and lost to Kelly that November.

“There are donors that have kind of been sitting along the sidelines to kind of see how this race starts to play out,” said Kelly Arnold, Schmidt’s campaign treasurer and a former Kansas GOP chairman. “These are endorsements that help move those donors off the sidelines.”

Both Dole and Roberts had support from moderate and conservative Republicans during their decadeslong careers in Congress.

Dole said of Schmidt, “He’s a strong Republican, and he has what it takes to win and to lead with common sense and decency.”

Dole endorsed Colyer in his 2018 primary for governor, and Colyer invoked Dole in launching his comeback campaign in April, having once served as an intern for Dole. Colyer has the backing of newly elected Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall.

Colyer’s campaign has questioned whether Schmidt truly is a conservative, partly because Schmidt once worked for former Kansas Sen. Nancy Kassebaum and former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel. Both were Republicans, but Kassebaum endorsed Kelly in 2018, and Hagel served as defense secretary for President Barack Obama.

“Elections are about the future not the past,” Colyer’s campaign manager Colton Gibson said in a text message to The AP. “We look forward to a campaign based on our principled conservative solutions for the future, contrasted with Derek Schmidt’s history of blowing with the political winds.”

Colyer was governor for a little less than a year, elevated from lieutenant governor in January 2018 when GOP Gov. Sam Brownback resigned to become U.S. ambassador at large for international freedom. Schmidt was first elected attorney general in 2010.