By Jim Ellis
April 17, 2020 — For weeks, Democratic leaders and strategists have maintained that the open Kansas Senate seat is competitive for them if former secretary of state, Kris Kobach, who lost the 2018 governor’s race as the party nominee, wins the 2020 Republican primary on Aug. 4. Public Policy Polling released a survey a couple days ago that seems to confirm such a premise, at least on the numerical surface.
According to the PPP research (April 13-14; 1,27 registered Kansas voters via interactive response device or text message), consensus Democratic Senate contender Barbara Bollier, a state senator from Mission Hills who is a former Republican legislator, would lead Kobach 44-42 percent in a head-to-head match-up.
Kobach is not the only Republican in the race, however, and his nomination is nowhere near being a foregone conclusion. PPP did not test Rep. Roger Marshall (R-Great Bend) or Kansas state Senate president, Susan Wagle (R-Wichita), against Sen. Bollier or, if they did, such numbers were not released. Therefore, we don’t have a clear perception of the Democratic candidate’s overall strength before the Kansas electorate.
The underlying numbers would suggest another Republican would fare better against Sen. Bollier. President Trump’s job approval rating according to this poll is 52:43 percent favorable to unfavorable, and the generic partisan question – “ … would you vote for the Democratic candidate or the Republican candidate” – is 50-40 percent in favor of an unnamed Republican.
Additionally, after push questions were asked of the respondents that paint Sen. Bollier in a much more positive light than Kobach, particularly that “she is a physician and wants to run for the Senate to help other people,” the numbers don’t change significantly. Post push questions, the secondary ballot test went to only 47-42 percent in Dr. Bollier’s favor.
Considering the nature of the slanted questions, which PPP routinely uses in many of their more ideologically based surveys, one would expect the ballot test to have grown substantially in the favor of the candidate who was painted in the most positive light, in this case Dr. Bollier.
The closeness of the secondary ballot test is even more noticeable when the pollsters asked the respondents which of the two candidates would do a better job handling the coronavirus pandemic. By a 50:18 percent ratio, the respondent universe stated the belief that Dr. Bollier would do an excellent or good job in handling the situation. On the other hand, Kobach’s split was an upside-down 34:44 percent in response to the same question. Yet, the ballot test number did not significantly change.
The Kansas polling sample, like in so many places, reveals a severely polarized electorate. The respondents indicate they voted for President Trump in a 55-35 percent margin over Hillary Clinton back in 2016, which appears an accurate representation of the actual Kansas vote (57-36 percent). Of the people self-describing themselves as Trump or Clinton voters, by a margin of 83-8 percent, the Trump partisans would vote for the Republican Senate candidate, while the Clinton voters break for the Democratic contender at an even larger 89-3 percent clip.
Where the Republicans have room to grow is found when the partisan screen is applied to the Senate ballot test. While the self-described Clinton voters would support Dr. Bollier in a 90:2 percent ratio, the Kobach loyalty factor among the Trump supporters is not as high. He records a 72-14 percent vote factor, which is clearly not as strong as Bollier fares among the Clinton backers.
Though Kobach still commands a strong margin, it is within this sector that his number must improve if he is to win a general election. It is also reasonable to conclude that one of the other Republicans would record a higher partisan loyalty factor, which would likely put that candidate ahead of Dr. Bollier.
This is a Senate race that must be observed closely at least through the nomination period in early August. It does appear that the Democrats are in a competitive position here if Kobach becomes the Republican standard bearer, and this would become a race to draw national attention, if so.
More data, which undoubtedly will soon be forthcoming, is needed to see if the other Republican candidates fare better against Dr. Bollier. When looking at the PPP results in their totality, it is probable that the answer will be affirmative, but the actual data will reveal the concrete answer. Expect this open seat race to begin drawing much more attention in the coming weeks.