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GOP Scrambling Before Filing Deadline to Save Kansas Senate Seat

Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo attends a dinner hosted by University of Louisville President Neeli Bendapudi​, on December 1, 2019, the evening before he delivers remarks at the University of Louisville as part of the McConnell Center’s Distinguished Speaker Series. [State Department Photo by Ron Przysucha/ Public Domain] Date: 1 December 2019, 18:59 Source: Secretary Pompeo Attends A Dinner Hosted by University of Louisville President Neeli Bendapudi​ Author: U.S. Department of State from United States

Since 1932, Kansas has remained a stalwart Republican torchbearer — the state has elected solely Republican US senators over those 88 years. This year could be different.

Since 1932, Kansas has remained a stalwart Republican torchbearer — the state has elected solely Republican US senators over those 88 years. This year could be different, however, and the prospect of losing a senate seat in Kansas, a state normally a lock for the party, has the party rushing to avert the disaster.

Pompeo Refuses to Save Republican Stronghold

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who started his political career in Kansas is the GOP favorite to run in the Nov. 3 election, but there’s one problem — he doesn’t want to. Despite pressure from President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R–Ky., Pompeo continues to refuse calls to join the senate race, according to POLITICO.

“There’s not been a development yet,” McConnell said during a POLITICO interview. “But he would obviously be my first choice and he has been for months.”

Pompeo had previously tried to put to rest hearsay about his possible candidacy when he met with McConnell in January and declared he would not jump into the race. He has maintained he is happy in his role as secretary and intends to continue in that capacity, presumably into Trump’s next term if he is reelected.

His refusal to play the role of savior in a critical election year leaves the door open in Kansas and no one is quite sure who will become the next senator. That uncertainty has the GOP looking for alternatives as the June 1 filing deadline approaches.

Kobach’s Past Could Lose GOP Seat

Presently, Kris Kobach, former Trump official and former Kansas secretary of state, is the star of the show in the senate race, but that’s not what the party prefers. Kobach, though a Republican, proved too extreme for even Trump. A hardline immigration opponent, he essentially headed the short-lived Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.

The body produced no reports, led to a number of lawsuits, and was disbanded within 7 months. Kobach left Washington and a few months later, announced he would run for the Kansas governorship. He already had a decade of experience within the party at the state level; Kobach served as chair of the Kansas GOP from 2007 to 2009 and as its secretary of state from 2011 to 2019. At the point he ran for governor, Kobach was a leading figure in the state’s party, but it wasn’t enough.

Kobach won the Republican primary before losing to Democratic candidate Laura Kelly. Ethical concerns mostly pertaining to voting laws plagued Kobach during the campaign and Topeka, Kan., turned blue. The controversy that surrounds Kobach cost the party the governor’s office, but Kanas has a history of electing Democratic governors from time-to-time — since 1900, Democrats have won the office 34% of the time.

Few Viable Alternatives

National politics are different, however, and the GOP is facing the possibility of losing control of the senate, therefore it needs to retain every seat it can. Losing a historically stable seat such as Kansas’ could be a death knell for the party in November.

The state is offering little in the way of alternatives to Kobach and his Democratic challenger, State Sen. Barbara Bollier. She has raised $3.5 million over the past six months and carries the added threat of being a party switcher, having switched in 2018 in protest of Trump’s election, The Kansas City Star reported. In short, she could potentially resonate with some Republicans in a way that most Democrats would not, and has the funds to spread her message.

Two Republicans have stepped up to run against Kobach in the primary: US Rep. Roger Marshall and businessman Bob Hamilton, founder of Bob Hamilton Plumbing. Marshall has name recognition in Western Kansas, which he represents, but that region of the state is also sparsely populated. After Pompeo said he would not enter the race, Marshall raised a large portion of his $2 million war chest in the following months. 

By contrast, Hamilton is largely self-funded, having loaned himself $2 million.

Kobach Remains Optimistic

The party has tried to clear the way for Marshall to take on Kobach by writing letters to outlier candidates, Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle and NFL player-turned-businessman David Lindstrom. The state’s GOP chairman, Mike Kuckelman, wrote to both and made the case for them to give up on the race, The New York Times reported.

While the national party leadership, namely McConnell, is concerned with the outcome in Kansas, Kobach and current Republican senators aren’t as phased.

“Republicans have an unbroken streak of winning Senate races [in Kansas],” Kobach said. “The political atmosphere in 2020 feels a lot more like 2016 than 2018.”

Sen. Jerry Moran, R–Kan., who is not up for reelection this year, said, “I remain optimistic” that Trump and will win the state and the Republican nominee for senator, whether Kobach or someone else, will be victorious.

Daniel Davis

Daniel Davis is Managing Editor for The Osage County Herald-Chronicle in Kansas and also covers International news for Inside Over, a Milan-based global affairs publication. He graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Outside of writing, he enjoys photography and one day hopes to return to video production. Learn more about him at his website danieldavis.la.

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