By Jim EllisJuly 10, 2019 — In most runs for public office, the day a candidate announces is one of the best campaign days. For former Kansas secretary of state and 2018 Republican gubernatorial nominee Kris Kobach, his declaration that he would run for Sen. Pat Roberts (R) open seat looks to have turned out differently.
Kobach’s Senate announcement on Monday, though speculated upon for several weeks, was met with a considerable amount of negativity from members of his own party including a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). Through a reported tweet from an interview with the Kansas City Star newspaper she said, “just last year [ex-Sec of State] Kris Kobach ran [as GOP nominee for governor] and lost to a Democrat. Now, he wants to do the same and simultaneously put President Trump’s presidency and [the GOP] Senate majority at risk.”
Kobach, the sitting secretary of state at the time, defeated Gov. Jeff Colyer in the 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary by just 343 votes of over 317,000 ballots cast. Colyer was the state’s lieutenant governor who ascended to the governorship when two-term incumbent Sam Brownback resigned to accept a federal appointment. Post-nomination, the Kobach general election campaign was routinely rated as poor, from a lack of fundraising to deficient campaign strategy and implementation that caused him to lose 48-43 percent to then-state Sen. Laura Kelly (D-Topeka) who attracted a significant amount of Republican support.
Prior to his running for governor, Kobach was tabbed by President Trump to be vice-chairman and lead administrator for the President’s Advisory Committee on Election Integrity under Vice President Mike Pence. But Kobach’s leadership of this organization was also called into question. Asking for voter information from states that even Republican chief election officials routinely refused to turn over, the panel was dissolved after only seven months of existence with no tangible accomplishment.
The Kansas Republican Party is badly split between moderates and conservatives as the governor’s primary illustrates. Now, many fear that Kobach’s presence in the open Senate race could lead to a similar conclusion as the 2018 statewide contest and cost the GOP what should be a safe seat in an election cycle when they are already defending 22 of 33 in-cycle seats plus the Arizona special election.
We are now certain to see increased pressure being placed upon US secretary of state and former Kansas congressman, Mike Pompeo, to resign his current position and return to the state to run for the seat. It appears that Pompeo could be a unifying force within the party and is possibly the one person that could easily put the primary election to bed.
But two other Republicans are already in the race, state Treasurer Jake LaTurner and Kansas Turnpike Authority chairman and former Kansas City Chiefs football player Dave Lindstrom. Another prominent potential candidate, western Kansas Rep. Roger Marshall (R-Great Bend), is also apparently making moves to enter the statewide contest and has been hot on the fundraising trail. Therefore, the Republican situation, which was largely in a holding pattern to see what Secretary Pompeo might do, is now becoming deeply muddled.
Still others are possible candidates, too. State Attorney General Derek Schmidt, state Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita), businessman and frequent candidate Wink Hartman, American Conservative Union president Matt Schlapp, and even former Gov. Jeff Colyer have all been mentioned as potential GOP contenders. Whether the Kobach announcement spurs any of them into action remains to be seen.
The chaos rising in the Republican ranks clearly plays to the Democrats’ benefit. Two have announced for their party’s nomination, ex-US Attorney Barry Grissom and former one-term US Rep. Nancy Boyda. Should Kobach come through a crowded and divisive primary, the eventual Democratic nominee’s stock will precipitously rise.
With an Aug. 4, 2020 primary date and a June 1 filing deadline, this political drama will continue to unfold over quite a long period of time. We will undoubtedly see further twists and turns coming in the succeeding months.