Campaigns

Rating Change: Pompeo decision makes Kansas seat more vulnerable

Leading GOP candidate Kris Kobach comes with risks in general election

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo before briefing House members on Iran. Seen as his party’s best option for an open Kansas Senate seat, he has told Majority Leader Mitch McConnell he will not run. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call photo)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s decision not to run for Senate in Kansas creates a legitimate scenario for Democrats to win a seat in a Republican state and increases the chances Democrats win control of the chamber in November.

Pompeo has long been viewed as the Republicans’ easiest path to keeping retiring Sen. Pat Roberts’ seat in GOP hands. Now, there’s significant concern that polarizing former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach will win the GOP nomination and lose the 2020 Senate race in the same way he lost the 2018 race for governor (which was by 5 points).

Kobach is currently leading the GOP primary field that includes 1st District Rep. Roger Marshall, state Senate President Susan Wagle, and others. Republican strategists are divided on Marshall’s ability to overcome the deficit and win the nomination.

A majority of GOP sources believe Marshall’s financial and geographic advantage (he represents rural, primary-voter-rich western Kansas), combined with resentment toward Kobach’s gubernatorial loss and comical demands (i.e. access to a private jet) before he would join the Trump administration, will boost Marshall. Other Republicans are more skeptical and fear Kobach’s following is more resilient.

Meanwhile, former Republican/state Sen. Barbara Bollier is the likely Democratic nominee. Her campaign announced she raised $1.1 million in the last three months of the year and she should be a credible candidate if Republicans nominate Kobach. If Republicans nominate Marshall or Wagle, Democrats don’t stand much of a chance.

With Pompeo’s apparently official decline and thus the increased likelihood of Kobach winning the nomination, Inside Elections is changing its rating of the Kansas Senate race from Solid Republican to Lean Republican.

A Democratic win in Kansas would have a significant impact on the path to Democratic control of the Senate because winning in Kansas would decrease the need for Democrats to defeat GOP incumbents in Maine and Iowa. Democrats need a net gain of four seats for a Senate majority or a net gain of three seats in addition to a White House victory to control the Senate (because a Democratic vice president would break tie votes).

The filing deadline in Kansas isn’t until June 1, so there’s still time for Pompeo to change his mind. The primary is Aug. 4.

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