Up-and-coming politicos looking at higher office in the Sunflower State may have to be patient — at least for a few election cycles.
With fresh faces cementing control at nearly every level of government in recent years, Kansas promises few avenues for upward mobility, according to sources in the state.
“At the higher level, there may be opportunity four to six years down the road when Gov. [Sam] Brownback or Sen. [Pat] Roberts steps down,” said Clayton Barker, executive director at the Kansas Republican Party. “At the lower levels, we’ve had such an influx of new people that if they all just stay put, there won’t be much room for anyone else.”
Republicans dominate the state more than ever, and with respect to federal office, no GOP turnover or successful Democratic challenge is on the horizon. Republicans occupy the entire congressional delegation and all but one, Roberts, started in their current office after 2008.
Despite their junior status, any of the four House Republicans could run statewide someday if they remain patient, local GOP consultants said.
Similarly, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a former state Senate majority leader, is in a position to run for Senate or governor eventually, too, sources suggested.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, known nationally as a conservative on immigration issues, “has made no secret that he wants to move up,” according to one operative.
GOP operatives pointed to state Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce and state Senate Vice President Jeff King as two young politicians who are well-poised to move up from their current leadership positions as well.
Additionally, state Sen. Garrett Love, 24, stands out as the youngest member of his chamber in Kansas history. Earlier in his career, Love defeated a former state speaker and double-decade veteran of the state House. In 2010, he was elected to the state Senate after Rep. Tim Huelskamp left that gig for his new seat in Congress.
Their victories played a part in a chain reaction that shook up Kansas politics in 2010.
When Brownback retired from the Senate to run for governor, two House Republicans, Reps. Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt, faced off for his Senate seat. Their Senate bids prompted two open-seat House races, creating more opportunities for ambitious Republicans.
In all, a whopping total of 26 candidates ran in six GOP primaries for federal office that year. Local operatives speculate that a similarly large field of Kansas Republicans will run whenever the next statewide opportunity arises.
“Our primaries here tend to be pretty brutal,” one GOP operative said. “If there were an opening, I think you would see a stampede.”
In recent cycles, local Republicans have quietly speculated that junior House Republicans could be vulnerable to a primary challenge — especially Reps. Lynn Jenkins or Mike Pompeo.
State Reps. Gene Suellentrop and Mark Hutton were both named as possible primary challengers to Pompeo.
But so far, none of these challenges has panned out.
Earlier this cycle, Republicans privately speculated that Kobach could challenge Roberts in the primary in 2014. But he endorsed the senator early in his race.
Despite a steep disadvantage in statewide voter registration, Kansas Democrats also have a few ambitious politicians waiting in the wings.
Operatives named state House Minority Leader Paul Davis, former Senate nominee Jill Docking, former Kansas City Mayor Joe Reardon and Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor as viable candidates for federal office.
That said, Democrats do not expect an imminent resurgence in the state, at least not until President Barack Obama leaves office.
“As early as 2014, I’m less optimistic federally,” said Dakota Loomis, communications director at the Kansas Democratic Party. “Getting out from the shadow of Obama will be a big deal for our candidates, given how poorly he has been received here. 2016, 2018, 2020 — those races could be much more competitive.”
Farm Team is a state-by-state look at the up-and-coming politicos who may eventually run for Congress. The column runs on Thursdays.