Retiring Kansas Sen. Roberts endorses Marshall over Kobach for seat

photo by: Associated Press

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., listens during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing, Tuesday, June 23, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, to discuss the lessons learned during the coronavirus. (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

Updated at 4:56 p.m. Tuesday

TOPEKA — Retiring Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts declared his support Tuesday for Rep. Roger Marshall as his replacement, the latest signal that the Republican establishment is determined to push Marshall past polarizing conservative Kris Kobach in the GOP primary.

Roberts’ endorsement came in a string of tweets two weeks before the Aug. 4 primary. The four-term senator praised Marshall without mentioning Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state who lost the 2018 governor’s race to Democrat Laura Kelly.

Roberts, the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, touted Marshall’s service on its House counterpart as “invaluable” and also pointed to Marshall’s experience as a doctor. Marshall is a Great Bend obstetrician who was elected to the House seat for western and central Kansas in 2016.

“Roger is a doctor who can help guide this country through a pandemic that has touched every Kansan,” Roberts tweeted. “I sit on the Health Committee and know first-hand how important it will be to keep a Kansas view on the committee.”

The GOP hasn’t lost a Senate race in Kansas since 1932, but many Republicans worry that Roberts’ normally safe seat will be in play if Kobach is the nominee. A competitive race in Kansas would complicate the GOP’s efforts to keep its 53-47 Senate majority in what could be a difficult year.

Marshall called Roberts “an advisor, a sounding board and a friend.”

Kobach, a former Kansas secretary of state, is nationally known for pushing tough immigration policies and alienated independent and moderate GOP voters in the 2018 governor’s race. Republican leaders are concerned because the presumed Democratic nominee for Roberts’ seat, state Sen. Barbara Bollier, a retired Kansas City anesthesiologist and former moderate Republican who switched parties late in 2018, had raised more than $7 million for her campaign through June.

But Kobach has argued that voters in a Senate race are likely to focus more on issues like immigration and that he will be helped by a surge of GOP votes for Trump’s re-election. He’s also played up conservative bona fides that include an endorsement from former GOP South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, head of the Conservative Partnership Institute.

DeMint called Kobach “a trusted conservative warrior.”

Kobach and Marshall lead an 11-person GOP field that also includes Bob Hamilton, the founder of a Kansas City-area plumbing company. Hamilton loaned his campaign $3.5 million and has flooded the broadcast airwaves with more than a dozen ads.

Marshall represents the same sprawling congressional district that Roberts did before being elected to the Senate in 1996. After Roberts, the seat was held by Republican Jerry Moran, who was elected to the Senate in 2010. It’s safe GOP territory rich in political donors.

Marshall already has received endorsements from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Farm Bureau and Kansans for Life, the state’s most influential anti-abortion group. He’s backed by political icon Bob Dole, the former U.S. Senate majority leader and 1996 GOP presidential nominee — and another former western Kansas congressman.

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