The big talk in Kansas is not whether Trump will win the state (he will), but the US Senate race to replace the retiring Republican incumbent, Pat Roberts. Most of the talk revolves around the candidacy of former Kansas secretary of state, Kris Kobach. He, you may remember, lost the gubernatorial race to Democrat Laura Kelly in 2018. Republicans should not have to worry about a Senate race in Kansas. The last time a Democrat represented the state in the Senate, Franklin Roosevelt was president (1932). Kobach, after losing the gubernatorial race, entered the Senate fray in July, 2019.
Republicans from Wichita to DC are openly worried about a repeat of 2018 if Kobach emerges the winner. In 2018, Kobach emerged from a crowded primary only to lose to Kelly by about 47,000 votes. Throughout the 2018 campaign, Trump regularly supported Kobach. But for 2020, Trump is nothing but pragmatic and realizes retaining the Senate seat for the GOP in Kansas is becoming a priority. There are other declared candidates:
- Dave Lindstrom- a former player for the Kansas City Chiefs and businessman who strongly supports Trump;
- Roger Marshall- a Congressman who has strongly supported Trump in the House;
- Bryan Pruitt- a “commentator” who has been critical of the GOP over abortion and diversity, and;
- Susan Wagle- the state senate president and a pro-life advocate.
In short, Kansas has no shortage of qualified, high-profile Republican candidates, three of whom you can count firmly in the Trump camp. The worry over Kobach may be for naught if he loses the primary. Still, there exists worry over a Kobach nomination and that has set all kinds of rumors into overdrive regarding Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Since Roberts announced his retirement, most observers of Kansas politics believe that the Senate seat is Pompeo’s for the taking if he wants it. Although playing coy with his intentions, on a recent visit to Kansas which looked like a campaign stop, he was accompanied by Ivanka Trump. Every GOP power broker in the state wanted to meet with him. Long-time strategist David Kensinger who managed several statewide races for winning candidates has stated that Pompeo would have the greatest chance of winning the general election and that Kobach would present a risk. Mitch McConnell has stated that Pompeo would be his “first choice.” And even Trump seems open to the idea of a Pompeo Senate run.
For his part, Pompeo seems in no rush to make a decision. He has until June 2020 to declare his candidacy. Until then, some Pompeo allies in Kansas are telling potential donors to hold off on opening their wallets until a decision is announced. Perhaps that is the reason that Kobach, according to the most recent disclosures, has only $198,000 cash-on-hand.
As for the Democrats, they have apparently found their opponent in the form of Barbara Bollier, a state senator. She made headlines in 2018 when she left the GOP, endorsed Kelly over Kobach, and has never looked back. Her decision was predicated on the fact that Kobach seriously trailed Roger Marshall in fundraising. Bollier may be fiscally “conservative,” but she is proud advocate of LGBT rights and pro-choice.
In House races, the state GOP recently hired Shannon Golden as executive director who said his main priority was winning back the House seat won by Sharice Davids who defeated Kevin Yoder in 2018 in the Third District. Davids was one of the stars of the 2018 midterms, but the self-described “policy nerd” has kept a low profile in the House. The problem for the GOP is recruitment of a high-profile opponent although three Republicans are in the race so far.
In the Second District, some Republicans have surprisingly turned on fellow Republican Steve Watkins. For his part, Watkins has roundly criticized the impeachment inquiry and represents a district strongly in the Trump camp. Some of Watkins’ staff have defected to the Jake LaTurner camp in the primary and former Governor Jeff Colyer has endorsed LaTurner. The worry is over the electability of Watkins and most of the wounds are self-inflicted. They involve his inability to raise funds, his lack of involvement in GOP politics until his 2018 run, and apparent exaggerations of his business and personal accomplishments along the way. Democrats made an aggressive play for this seat in 2018 and that Democrat opponent- Paul Davis- dropped out of the race in October leaving the Democrats with no candidate to date against either Watkins or LaTurner.
Like Kansas, the talk in Nebraska is the Senate race which will be a test for Ben Sasse, not from any Democrat, but within the party. Sasse managed to draw a primary opponent in GOP activist and former chairman of the Lancaster county GOP- Matt Innis. He is an unabashed supporter of President Trump. It would have been tough enough running against an incumbent Senator in the primary, even if you are a strong supporter of Trump. When he made the announcement entering the race, he blasted Sasse for his then-frequent criticisms of Trump.
And then came this tweet from the President:
Senator Ben Sasse has done a wonderful job representing the people of Nebraska. He is great with our Vets, the Military, and your very important Second Amendment. Strong on Crime and the Border, Ben has my Complete and Total Endorsement!
It is likely that Sasse’s vote to uphold Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to build a wall had gained favor with Trump. Also, since then, Sasse has been eerily silent in his criticisms of Trump. If he had remained critical, Innis would have had a better chance and a primary challenge against Trump would have been a kamikaze mission. Another six years would allow Sasse to outlive a second Trump term and he realizes supporting, not criticizing Trump, was the best political move.
Finally, it should be mentioned that the state GOP is taking no prisoners when it comes to Trump-bashing by fellow Republicans. After shootings in Texas and Ohio, state senator John McCollister, a “Republican” for 50 years, blasted Trump for “enabling white supremacy” and allowing Trump to “hijack” the GOP agenda. Obviously ignorant of the fact that Trump, as the President, is the leader of the party, when rumors circulated the state party wanted him out, he doubled down on the rhetoric. The Nebraska GOP issued a statement for McCollister to “tell the truth about your partisan views,” then go register as a Democrat. In other words, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.