By Jim EllisNov. 25, 2019 — Ever since Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts (R) announced last January that he would retire at the end of the current Congress there has been consistent speculation that US Secretary of State and former Wichita area congressman, Mike Pompeo, would resign his national position and return to Kansas to run for the open seat. Despite repeated denials from Secretary Pompeo, the speculation would not die.
Now, it appears the rumors of him entering the race have greater foundation, as more concrete stories that he will soon resign and announce his candidacy are regularly surfacing. The Senate Republican leadership is clearly in favor of the Pompeo move, originally fearing that former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach could win a crowded August Republican primary with only a vote plurality and then perform as badly in the general election as he did when he lost the 2018 open governor’s race.
With Republicans holding 53 of the chamber’s 100 seats but having to defend 23 incumbents and open seats on the 2020 Senate election map versus only 12 for the Democrats, the GOP cannot afford an electoral debacle in what should be a safe seat. It was only two years ago that another flawed Republican Senate candidate bungled the Alabama special election, thus allowing Democrat Doug Jones to win the position that Sen. Jeff Sessions had resigned to become US Attorney General.
Currently, eight individuals have announced for the Republican nomination led by Kobach, US Rep. Roger Marshall (R-Great Bend), and state Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita). Polling and local political intel suggests that Pompeo would have little trouble winning the nomination, and the seat, if he were to enter the race. If he does become a candidate, some of the others, and particularly Rep. Marshall, would have time to exit the race and pivot back toward seeking re-election to their current position.
Originally, state Treasurer Jake LaTurner (R) had been in the Senate race – in fact, he was the first to enter the contest immediately after Sen. Roberts made public his intentions – but he has already exited and, at the behest of former Gov. Jeff Colyer (R), is now challenging freshman Rep. Steve Watkins (R-Topeka) for re-nomination in the 2nd Congressional District.
Democrats, on the other hand, are well organized. State Sen. Barbara Bollier (D-Mission Hills), a retired physician, former state representative and ex-Republican, is becoming a consensus candidate.
Originally, the party leaders had hoped to convince former Health & Human Services Secretary and Kansas governor, Kathleen Sebelius, (D) to run, but since that recruitment has been unsuccessful the Democratic establishment is settling for Bollier. Additionally, former US Attorney Barry Grissom, who at one point looked to be the party’s leading candidate, recently ended his effort and endorsed Bollier.
Therefore, with what appears to be a divided Kansas Republican Party and Democrats uniting behind one candidate, the pressure for Pompeo to enter the race has increased within GOP and conservative circles.
High stakes surround the Kansas situation. In order to retain the Senate majority, the GOP must convert either Alabama (most likely) or Michigan and hold at least one of their three most vulnerable seats: Arizona (McSally), Colorado (Gardner), or North Carolina (Tillis). Therefore, it becomes critical to protect all of their secondary holds such as Maine (Collins) and Iowa (Ernst) and make sure that no other presumed safe seat becomes competitive, i.e., Kansas.
It remains to be seen if Secretary Pompeo returns to run for the Sunflower State seat, but the probability of him doing so seems greater today than even one month ago. With the Republican senators encouraging him to run, actually seeing this development come to fruition is becoming more likely.