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Republicans Are Worried They May Lose A Senate Seat In Kansas

May 28, 2020
Originally published on May 29, 2020 9:15 am
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The race for control of the Senate is getting increasingly competitive. One place of concern for Republicans is Kansas. While the GOP primary is not until August, there is a June 1 filing deadline. And for the first time in a long time, party leaders aren't sure the field includes someone who can win come November. Jim McLean of the Kansas News Service reports.

JIM MCLEAN, BYLINE: Republicans have had an absolute lock on both of Kansas's Senate seats since the Great Depression. But their decades-long winning streak could be in jeopardy this year. Pat Roberts, the 83-year-old incumbent, isn't running. Neither, it appears, is Mike Pompeo. Despite recent abuse-of-power allegations leveled against him, many GOP leaders believe the U.S. secretary of state and former Kansas congressman would be their strongest candidate. In a recent Fox News interview, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talked about his ongoing efforts to recruit Pompeo.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: You can see how well I've done so far (laughter).

BRET BAIER: Are you still hopeful on that front?

MCCONNELL: Well, the filing deadline is June 1, so I guess the suspense won't last much longer.

MCLEAN: There isn't any real suspense on this end, says Kansas Republican Party Chair Mike Kuckelman.

MIKE KUCKELMAN: I've not heard anything from Pompeo's team that he's looking at it or that he has any interest in doing it this time, and I think he's been pretty clear that he's not going to.

MCLEAN: With Pompeo out, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is a front-runner for the nomination. He's a polarizing figure who appeals to many Trump voters but alienates moderates and independents.

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KRIS KOBACH: The Washington establishment wants a tool - a quiet, useful tool who will keep the status quo going. Well, guess what? The Washington establishment is not going to get what they want if I'm...

MCLEAN: Kobach's record as an anti-immigration hard-liner aligns him with President Trump, who endorsed Kobach's 2018 bid for governor but joked about having second thoughts.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If he loses, I'll bring him into my administration in two seconds. I hope he loses 'cause I want him so badly, but don't do that. Don't...

MCLEAN: But Kobach did lose that race to Democrat Laura Kelly, and that has some Republicans worried about his chances this time around. Congressman Roger Marshall, Kobach's chief rival for the Senate nomination, stokes those concerns at every turn.

ROGER MARSHALL: Here we are in a state that President Trump won by over 20 points. How does a Kansas Republican lose a governor's race?

MCLEAN: Many establishment Republicans are coalescing around Marshall, a retired doctor from western Kansas. But Kobach, noting he's won 2 of 3 statewide races, says too much is being made of his loss to Kelly in what he calls a blue wave election.

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KOBACH: But basically, that's the only argument they got. And so they keep saying it over and over again.

MCLEAN: Democrat Barbara Bollier will be waiting for the winner of the GOP slugfest. She's also a retired doctor and state senator from the Kansas City suburbs. She left the Republican Party in 2018 when she says her positions on abortion and Medicaid expansion made her an outlier.

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BARBARA BOLLIER: For the first time ever, I don't have that pit in my stomach, that stress of knowing I don't agree with so many of the policies they're trying to bring forward.

MCLEAN: With backing from Governor Kelly and former Kansas governor and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Bollier is out-fundraising everyone on the Republican side. For Democrats, Sebelius says, she's the right candidate at the right time.

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS: And I think at a time when people are looking for compassionate, competent government, she's got a real shot.

MCLEAN: A shot, but a lot of history to overcome because when it comes to U.S. Senate races, Kansas Democrats own the nation's longest losing streak.

For NPR News, I'm Jim McLean. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.