By Jim Ellis
June 1, 2020 — The open Kansas Senate race is more interesting this year than typical for what is normally a safe Republican state; in fact, it is becoming one of the most intriguing races in the country.Democrats believe they have a chance of stealing this contest if former Kansas secretary of state and 2018 defeated gubernatorial nominee Kris Kobach were to win the GOP nomination. And it appears that early polling numbers and even the Kansas Republican Party chairman agree.
Things started to unravel back in the 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary when Kobach, then the sitting Kansas secretary of state, challenged Gov. Jeff Colyer in the party nominating contest and managed to beat him by 343 votes from more than 317,000 ballots cast. Colyer ascended to the governor’s office when elected incumbent Sam Brownback (R) resigned to accept a federal position.
The outcome split the already badly divided Kansas Republican Party – fragmented between moderates and conservatives – and coupled with a lackluster, while some say non-existent, Kobach general election gubernatorial campaign effort, Democrat Laura Kelly was able to win the statewide contest 48-43 percent with nine percent going to various minor party candidates.
Democrats are hyped because of that outcome, and Republicans clearly nervous. After months of speculation that US secretary of state and former Kansas congressman Mike Pompeo would leave his position and enter the Senate contest, the party leadership is now solidly coalescing around US Rep. Roger Marshall (R-Great Bend). Republican Party chairman Mike Kuckelman last week even publicly called upon all of the candidates beside Rep. Marshall to exit the race in order to give the congressman a one-on-one shot at denying Kobach the party nomination.
Yesterday, state Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) announced she would end her Senate quest, stating among other reasons that she did not want to split the party. Kuckelman believes that that crowded field would help Kobach win the nomination because he could do so with a plurality vote, fearing that his hard-right base may be enough to win a crowded field race.