Tag Archives: Sen. Pat Roberts

Kansas Breaking

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 2, 2020 — One of the most interesting Senate primary races occurred in the Sunflower State of Kansas where Sen. Pat Roberts’ (R) retirement left a contentious Republican primary in his wake, one that saw even Democrats becoming involved. Now, it appears the general election may be beginning to break.

In 2018, then-Secretary of State Kris Kobach upset Gov. Jeff Colyer in the Republican gubernatorial primary by just over 300 votes statewide to snatch the party nomination. He would then go on to lose to Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly (D-Topeka) in a race that many Republicans believe Kobach simply gave away due to his poor campaign.

Undaunted by this loss and what was regarded as his failed chairmanship of the Trump Administration’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, Kobach entered the 2020 Senate campaign. Republican leaders even including the National Republican Senatorial Committee hierarchy, worried that Kobach would again lose the general election, got behind west Kansas US Rep. Roger Marshall (R-Great Bend). He would eventually prevail in the Aug. 4 primary even though polling showed a close race throughout, usually with Kobach ahead. The final tally was 40-26 percent in Rep. Marshall’s favor.

The strangest part of the primary, however, was Democratic aligned organizations coming into the state in an attempt to actually help Kobach win the Republican nomination. They did this by attacking him as being too conservative, and much too closely aligned with President Trump, negative ads they knew would actually be viewed favorably by the most loyal of Kansas Republican primary voters.

Helping Kobach win the GOP nomination, these Democratic leaders believed, would give their candidate, party switching state Sen. Barbara Bollier (D-Mission Hills), the upper hand in the general election with the chance of capturing what should be a safe Republican Senate seat.

After the primary, the early polling was showing a relatively even race between Rep. Marshall and Sen. Bollier. Traversing a period of having no released polls since immediately after the early August primary, we now see several released surveys conducted within the same general sampling period. Most of these current studies find Marshall beginning to put some distance between he and Bollier.

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The Wild Kansas Senate Race

By Jim Ellis

July 21, 2020 — As we approach the Aug. 4 primaries, it’s clear that the Kansas Senate Republican primary will be the top attraction of that election day. An intra-party nomination clash in what should be a relatively safe open-seat campaign has devolved into a mixed-message political brawl.

Embattled Kansas Senate Republican candidate Kris Kobach

Just in the past month we’ve seen Democratic money coming into the Sunflower State in an attempt to influence the Republican primary, and national Republican money making an appearance trying to destroy the former GOP gubernatorial nominee. Furthermore, a well-healed third Republican candidate was being described as a multi-million dollar plumber who contributes more to Democrats. And, yesterday we saw a new ad with a candidate saying that it’s really “a badge of honor” that the Democrats are now attacking him because they’re afraid to face him in the general election.

When veteran Sen. Pat Roberts (R) announced his retirement last year, 2018 gubernatorial nominee Kris Kobach, fresh from running the disastrous Presidential Commission on Election Integrity that yielded no results before being disbanded, jumped into the Senate race. Because Kobach ran such a poor gubernatorial campaign and virtually handed the office to then-Democratic state senator Laura Kelly two years ago, Republican leaders were fearful of him becoming the Senate nominee. Democrats were also seeing early polling numbers indicating that they could beat Kobach while other Republicans were faring much better in general election ballot test pairings.

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Kansas Rep. Watkins’ Legal Woes

By Jim Ellis

July 16, 2020 — On Tuesday night, within an hour of him stepping onto a congressional debate stage in Kansas, freshman Rep. Steve Watkins (R-Topeka) was indicted in state court. He is charged with interference with law enforcement, providing false information, voting without being qualified, unlawful advance voting, and failing to notify the DMV of change of address according to the Shawnee County District Attorney’s office as reported in The Hill newspaper.

Freshman Rep. Steve Watkins (R-Topeka)

Immediately Rep. Watkins claimed the timing of the indictments was politically motivated, though Republican District Attorney Mike Kagay naturally denied that was the case. Still, being charged three weeks before the primary election on what should be considered a minor activity that is treated as a felony, i.e., where a person declares his residence and whether he voted in a different city council district race that didn’t comply with his stated residence, arguably opens the DA’s actions to legitimate criticism.

The base controversy surrounds Watkins registering to vote at a UPS postal center in 2018. The congressman claims he made a mistake on the voter registration form by listing his mailing address rather than his street address. In a 2019 Topeka municipal election, Watkins apparently voted in the district race that housed the UPS store location he used as his mailing address, which is different from that of his stated residence; hence, the vote fraud charge.

Questions surrounding Watkins’ residence have been raised since he returned to Kansas to run for the open 2nd District seat. He re-located to Topeka after spending time in the military and living for most of the past few years in Alaska where he participates in the annual Iditarod races.

Attacking the residence issue, Rep. Watkins’ principal Republican primary opponent, Kansas state Treasurer Jake LaTurner, was already running an ad about the congressman registering to vote at the UPS store and owning two homes in Alaska “but none in Topeka” before the indictments came down, and now such residency issues will likely be at the forefront of the remaining three weeks in the primary cycle.

The Watkins controversy, however, does not end with the freshman congressman. His father, Dr. Steve Watkins Sr., a local Topeka physician, is reportedly under a Federal Election Commission investigation for allegedly making contributions in the name of another that combined exceeded his maximum individual limits. According to a Politico news story, Dr. Watkins confirms he is under investigation for giving money to his family members and associates in order for them to contribute to the congressional campaign. This is would be a serious charge that normally carries prison time. To date, no charges have been filed against Dr. Watkins.

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Pompeo for Senate?

By Jim Ellis

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

Nov. 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.

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A Brewing Battle Emerging in Kansas

Freshman Rep. Steve Watkins (R-Topeka)

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 17, 2019 — Former legislative aide Abbie Hodgson, the only announced Democratic candidate in the KS-2 congressional race, withdrew her challenge to freshman Rep. Steve Watkins (R-Topeka) Wednesday because she claims not to possess the fundraising ability to conduct a credible campaign. At this point, there is no alternative Democrat on the horizon in the Kansas district, but that will soon likely change.

Rep. Watkins won a tight 48-47 percent general election victory over former state House Minority Leader and 2014 gubernatorial nominee Paul Davis (D) last November to succeed retiring Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R). This came after political newcomer Watkins, a West Point graduate, Army Ranger and Afghanistan veteran, won a tight seven-way Republican primary but with only 26.5 percent of the vote. Controversy arose when a major independent expenditure committee emerged, which was principally funded by the candidate’s father, to back Watkins.

More potential upheaval surrounds Rep. Watkins, but it simmers below the surface. Rumors were flying around in August that the congressman would imminently resign his office because of a rumored scandal that was about to become public. Watkins took no such action, and to date nothing involving scandalous activity has come to light.

This has not stopped certain Republicans from taking action, however. In early September, reportedly at the behest of former Gov. Jeff Colyer (R) who lost his own bitter primary to then-Secretary of State Kris Kobach, state Treasurer Jake LaTurner made a surprising move. He was the first declared US Senate candidate after incumbent Pat Roberts (R) announced his retirement, but he then transferred from the statewide campaign to instead enter the primary to challenge Watkins in the Topeka-anchored congressional district.

Kansas’ 2nd is a decidedly Republican seat, but not intensely so. The CD occupies 23 eastern Kansas counties and parts of two others. It runs vertically from the Nebraska border to Oklahoma and consumes the territory between the Kansas City metro area and Wichita.

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