During the campaign, there probably weren’t enough full-throated Donald Trump supporters on Capitol Hill to fill a minivan. But two Trump campaign aides could get elected in House special elections later this year, while another adviser may challenge a Republican senator in a primary next year.
Their candidacies will test the popularity and allure of Trump at the local level (since each of them would start their races as underdogs against establishment candidates) and indicate how interested the new president is in interjecting himself into local fights.
Alan Cobb is poised to run for new CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s 4th District in Kansas.
Cobb has been active in Kansas politics for two decades, including working for former Sen. Bob Dole, managing Tim Shallenburger’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign and being Kansas state director for Americans for Prosperity.
He eventually oversaw state programs for AFP and hired Corey Lewandowski to run New Hampshire. More recently, Cobb was an early and senior adviser to Trump, working on ballot access and delegate allocation, and eventually becoming the coalitions director.
“I’m in a unique position and time to have the ear of the president and vice president,” Cobb said at a recent candidate forum in Wichita. “I’ll have the opportunity to, at least, put the interests of the 4th District in the ear of those making decisions.”
Cobb’s challenge as a candidate is unique. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback just set the special general election for April 11, but, according to state law, there will be no primaries and local party officials will select nominees. That means Cobb must convince a majority of 126 delegates to support him at a convention to be held on Feb. 9.
State Treasurer Ron Estes is the initial front-runner and started the race with significant local connections. But local sources say Cobb is a serious candidate who might be peaking at the right time. You can read more about the process, Cobb and other candidates in the Dec. 20 issue of The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report.
If Cobb is unsuccessful getting the nomination in the 4th District special election, he could run for the Republican nod next year in the 2nd District, which is now open after GOP Rep. Lynn Jenkins’ retirement announcement.
In Georgia, Trump surrogate Bruce LeVell is heading toward a run for Georgia’s 6th District, assuming GOP Rep. Tom Price is eventually confirmed as secretary of Health and Human Services.
Unlike Cobb’s situation, there would be a primary, albeit one with candidates from all parties running together and the top two finishers moving to a runoff if no one receives more than 50 percent.
But similar to Cobb, LeVell would likely start the race as an underdog against former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel. LeVell was the leader of Trump’s National Diversity Coalition. You can read more about the race in the Dec. 20 issue of the Report.
Neither seat is at immediate risk of a Democratic takeover, but Republican incumbents (particularly those who opposed Trump) across the country should be watching to see how involved Trump gets and how much traction anti-establishment candidates have by attaching themselves to the president. Just days before the inauguration, Trump was on the phone with members of the Ohio state central committee trying to influence the race for Republican party chairman.
Party strategists and reporters are also waiting to see if Arizona state Treasurer Jeff DeWit challenges Sen. Jeff Flake in the Republican primary next year. DeWit moved up from state chairman of Trump’s campaign to the national campaign’s chief operating officer.
Flake is not unbeatable but, similar to Cobb and LeVell, DeWit would start as the underdog against the incumbent. According to Politico, DeWit is leaning toward taking a job in the administration. But Trump allies are likely to find someone else to take on Flake.