Republicans Hope to Avoid Nightmare Scenario in Kansas Senate Race
Kansas has not elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1932. That could change if former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Democrats’ preferred candidate, wins the primary tomorrow. Democrats prefer Kobach and Republicans are anxious about him for the same reason: he is a very toxic and controversial candidate who lost a gubernatorial race just two years ago in a conservative state.
For years, Kobach claimed undocumented people were voting and led a bogus task-force under President Trump to unearth alleged widespread voter fraud during the 2016 election. Of course, there was no voter fraud and the task-force was disbanded in January 2018. He was also behind a 2013 law which required people to provide evidence of U.S. citizenship to register to vote. Not only did a U.S. District Court judge find this law unconstitutional but she sanctioned Kobach by ordering him to undergo additional legal training on the rules of evidence or procedure. This April, a unanimous three judge panel on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals also declared it unconstitutional.
Kris Kobach — who has repeatedly lied about the supposed threat of immigrants — also holds very anti-immigrant and nativist views. For example, on a radio show several years ago, he did not dismiss someone who asked whether President Obama’s immigration policy would “lead to ethnic cleansing of whites.” Laura Kelly, the woman who defeated him and became governor, said in fall of 2018 that “he is not qualified to serve” due to his stances on immigration.
The most viable non-Kobach candidate to emerge would be Rep. Roger Marshall, an OB-GYN, who got elected to the House of Representatives in 2016. He represents the first congressional district, which encompasses all or part of 63 counties in western and northern Kansas, making it the seventh-largest district in the nation that does not cover an entire state. It is known as “The Big First” and it is a heavily rural and agricultural district.
Bob Hamilton, who owns a plumbing business, is slated to get the third-most votes. He is fairly well-known in Kansas and because he has spent millions of his own money, he may divide the anti-Kobach vote and allow him to win with a plurality. In a race between three major candidates, he may not need more than 35–40 percent.
There is a decent chance Rep. Marshall could win — the district he represents is massive and three of the district’s former congressmen were later elected to the U.S. Senate: Bob Dole, Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts, who Marshall and Kobach are vying to replace. But Kobach eked out a primary win in 2018 by just 343 votes, reaching 40 percent, so his ceiling could be 35–40 percent of a primary electorate.
National Republicans are scared of Kobach winning and they have been for months. Last summer the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) said, “Just last year Kris Kobach ran and lost to a Democrat. Now, he wants to do the same and simultaneously put President Trump’s presidency and Senate majority at risk.” As early as November 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — a former congressman from Kansas — was urged to run for the Senate, which he declined to do.
Last week Kevin McLaughlin, the executive director of the NRSC, said “The Senate majority runs through Kansas,” which is preposterous. There’s no way Kansas is the tipping point state, meaning the race which secures 50 Senate seats for Democrats or Republicans. McLaughlin and others probably think exaggerating is the only way to convince Trump to act against Kobach, which CNN and Politico reported he is unlikely to do.
But the NRSC and most Republicans still won’t intervene by endorsing Roger Marshall in the race. They may think that could fire up Kobach supporters or voters who dislike the establishment. As they grow concerned Kobach could be nominated and cost them a very winnable Senate race, we learned last week from CNN that President Trump was persuaded by Sen. Ted Cruz not to endorse Rep. Marshall and to stay neutral. Cruz reminded him that Marshall voted for John Kasich — a longtime Trump critic who will endorse Joe Biden — in the 2016 primary.
Some establishment Republicans, however, have rallied behind Marshall in recent weeks. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has supported him by running digital and TV ads and another GOP PAC has spent millions attacking Kobach. In addition, the limited government and anti-tax group Club for Growth stopped attacking Roger Marshall a couple months ago, at the request of President Trump. Even Sen. Pat Roberts endorsed him in late July, despite initially vowing to stay neutral.
Secretary Kobach, who has been a miserable fundraiser, has outside support as well. Billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel has donated millions to a super PAC supporting Kobach. The primary got very nasty last week when Kobach accused Rep. Marshall of performing abortions via a mailer. Anti-abortion groups say the claim by Kobach is a smear.
A Democratic-linked PAC has spent millions intervening in the primary, running ads calling Kobach “too conservative” and saying Roger Marshall is a “phony” who has been “soft on Trump and weak on immigration.” In 2012, former Sen. Claire McCaskill’s campaign meddled in the Missouri GOP primary to boost Todd Akin, saying he was “Missouri’s true conservative.” Less than three weeks later a scandal broke out when he said, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” referring to pregnancies occurring from a rape. The remark doomed him and McCaskill easily won re-election despite Barack Obama losing the state by nine points.
If Democrats’ meddling in Kansas works and Kobach is the nominee, they may be successful. Apparently private Republican polling shows that nearly 30 percent of Republican primary voters would support state Senator Barbara Bollier, the Democratic nominee, if Kobach won the primary. And President Trump is only barely leading Kansas at the moment, according to the same internal data.
State Sen. Barbara Bollier, an anesthesiologist, left the GOP and registered as a Democrat in December 2018. She still calls herself a moderate but was disheartened with the direction of the national and state Republican Party. She’s an advocate of popular programs like a public insurance option, campaign finance reform, green energy jobs, and increasing rural broadband access.
Bollier also raised $3.7 million from April-June, setting a fundraising record by raising the most money of any candidate in a single quarter in Kansas history. As a former Republican, a doctor, and unthreatening moderate, she may be the perfect match against Kobach. If he wins the primary on Tuesday, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report said this race may become a Toss Up race. If Rep. Marshall wins, Republicans would probably keep the Senate seat.