Rep. Roger Marshall wins GOP Senate nomination in Kansas

Defeat of ex-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach will come as relief to national party

Rep. Roger Marshall won the Kansas primary Tuesday to be the GOP nominee for Senate.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Roger Marshall won the Kansas primary Tuesday to be the GOP nominee for Senate. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 4, 2020 at 10:29pm

Rep. Roger Marshall has defeated conservative firebrand Kris Kobach to win the Republican nomination for the open Senate seat in Kansas. 

The win comes as a giant relief to national Republicans, who had lobbied for months against Kobach out of fears that his deep unpopularity with the state’s moderate voters could put the seat in play as they struggle to hold on to their Senate majority. Kobach lost a 2018 race for governor to Democrat Laura Kelly, after knocking off the sitting GOP overnor in the primary.

Marshall, an obstetrician, was leading the 11-way GOP primary with 37 percent of the vote when The Associated Press called the race at 9:07 p.m. Central time. Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state who earned his credibility with the GOP base as the face of President Donald Trump’s short-lived voter fraud panel, was in second with 26 percent. Bob Hamilton, the former owner of a well-known plumbing business who funneled millions into his campaign, was in third with 20 percent.

Marshall, who serves on the House Agriculture Committee, was endorsed by retiring Sen. Pat Roberts and former Sen. Bob Dole. Both once held Marshall’s current House seat in Kansas’ sprawling “Big 1st” District, which is seen as a stepping stone to higher office in the state. 

Marshall also had the backing of the Kansas Farm Bureau and the Kansas Livestock Association, which represent powerful agricultural interests in the state. 

But his position in the primary was far from certain. He alienated some of the party’s right flank when he ousted tea party favorite Rep. Tim Huelskamp in a 2016 House primary, and his low-key personality was considered a weakness against the more charismatic Kobach. But national Republicans dropped those concerns and consolidated behind him after they failed to recruit Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for the seat. 

Democrats think they can still put the race in play with their candidate, Barbara Bollier, a retired anesthesiologist and longtime state legislator with cross-party appeal. Bollier was a Republican until she left the party in 2018 in protest of the state GOP’s adoption of a platform that asserted the existence of only two genders. 

Bollier easily won the Democratic nomination Tuesday. She was leading retired court services officer Robert Tillman with 88 percent of the vote when the AP called the race. She had $4.2 million in the bank as of July 15. 

The leading Republican candidates all played up their allegiance to Trump, who did not endorse in the primary despite reports of intensive lobbying from Senate Republicans in the days leading up to the election

Marshall had $1 million in the bank as of July 15 compared with Kobach’s $136,000.  Hamilton, who had $964,000 after loaning his campaign $3.5 million, spent much of that money on goofy television ads, promoting his pro-Trump and Washington outsider credentials.

The race also attracted millions of dollars in outside spending from groups that blanketed the state’s airwaves in the lead-up to the election. 

Kobach benefited from almost $1.1 million in spending on mailers and digital ads from a group affiliated with tech billionaire Peter Thiel. The anti-tax Club for Growth also attacked Marshall in television and digital ads early on in the primary, but announced last month it would no longer spend on the race.

Sunflower State PAC, which has ties to Democrats, spent $3.2 million on ads attacking Marshall as a D.C. swamp creature, while also playing up Kobach’s conservative credentials. 

In Marshall’s corner, the Senate Leadership Fund spent $1.2 million on ads touting his record on veterans affairs. Plains PAC, which has ties to former Kansas Rep. Kevin Yoder, spent $2.3 million on ads attacking Kobach for links to white nationalists. And Keep Kansas Great PAC spent $226,000 opposing Hamilton and $124,000 opposing Kobach.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the general election Lean Republican.

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