Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s decision not to run for the open Senate seat in Kansas this November is a major blow to Republicans hoping to avoid a competitive race in one of the most GOP-friendly states in the country.
Had Pompeo, who represented the state’s 4th district from 2010 to 2016, run, he would have walked to the Republican nomination and been a heavy favorite to replace retiring Sen. Pat Roberts (R) in the fall. Without him, there is now the very real possibility that former Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach winds up as the GOP Senate nominee — a prospect that could imperil the seat for Republicans.
Kobach is a deeply divisive figure within the Kansas Republican Party — and the state more broadly. He made a national name for himself by championing hardline immigration policies that won him the praise and attention of President Donald Trump. Early in his presidency, Trump named Kobach as the chair of a commission to examine alleged voter fraud in the country, although the commission was disbanded after less than a year.
Kobach then embarked on a run for governor in 2018, narrowly ousting the appointed governor in a Republican primary before losing in the general election to Democrat Laura Kelly. (Trump endorsed Kobach in his contested primary fight, calling him “a fantastic guy who loves his State and our Country.”) Following that loss, Kobach was reportedly considered to be Trump’s immigration czar, but was eventually passed over — perhaps due to a wild list of reported demands he had for taking the job.
So when Kobach announced last year that he planned to seek the seat vacated by Roberts, the reaction among many Republicans was, uh, not friendly.
“L-O-S-E-R,” David Kensinger, campaign manager for Roberts and former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, said of Kobach in a text message to CNN. A spokeswoman for Senate Republicans campaign arm was almost as blunt: “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.”
And yet — due to his name identification from past runs for office and his following among grassroots Republicans — Kobach is now the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, with Pompeo off the board. (The most likely Democratic nominee is state Sen. Barbara Bollier, who left the GOP in 2018 and announced her Senate candidacy in October 2019.)
Because this is politics, of course, you should never say never. Rep. Roger Marshall as well as several other Republicans with less divisive profiles than Kobach are running for the GOP nomination — and could wind up beating Kobach in the state’s August 4 primary. And other candidates interested in the race still have until June 1 to file for it. It’s possible — given that late filing deadline — that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) takes another run at convincing Pompeo to make a bid sometime this spring.
But as the race stands now, this is a major trouble spot for Republicans. Kobach is the likeliest GOP nominee and, if the polling is to be believed, he has major weaknesses in a general election despite Kansas’ clear conservative tilt.
This isn’t just a Kansas story either. Remember that Democrats are pushing hard to retake the Senate majority in November, needing three pickups to do so if they win the White House and four if they don’t. The math is already working against the GOP; they have 23 seats to defend compared to just 12 for Democrats. Having to deal with a competitive race in Kansas is not what Republicans want — especially when they have major headaches in places like Arizona, Colorado and Maine.
A loss in Kansas — which, if Kobach is the nominee, is a very real possibility — means that Republicans’ majority math gets that much more complicated.