Views from Kansas: Kris Kobach’s unsettling run

Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.

A bombshell poll and an explosive declaration detonated last week in the middle of the Republican race to succeed U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas next year.

A newly leaked internal GOP poll shows Republican Kris Kobach losing to his most prominent Democratic rival in the state’s 2020 Senate race, an inconclusive but troubling warning sign that the controversial former secretary of state could be a repeat loser for Kansas Republicans.

Meantime, Kobach’s own 2018 running mate, Wink Hartman, told The Star Editorial Board that he’s considering joining a growing Republican chorus running for the Senate. Stunningly, against Kobach, with whom he shared a ticket last year.

Clearly, Republicans haven’t settled on a nominee, but they should be increasingly unsettled by the thought that it might be Kobach.

For his part Hartman, a Wichita businessman, maintains his mulling a Senate bid has nothing to do with Kobach or what others would argue are his disastrous qualities as a candidate, which undoubtedly led to the Kobach-Hartman ticket losing the governor’s race to the Democrats last year. Hartman said he just feels a businessman who’s made difficult decisions in that realm is particularly well-suited to the powerful, deliberative Senate.

Perhaps. Still, most will see Hartman’s potential run as a statement — along with the poll — of Kobach’s well-earned vulnerability.

And in Kansas, of all places, where Democrats have held a U.S. Senate seat for all of 16 years in the state’s 158-year history. And where the Democratic Senate field, led by the highly flawed former U.S. attorney Barry Grissom, is currently as barren as the Flint Hills after a seasonal burn.

Yes, it’s awfully early to be sampling political waters that have a lot of flowing to do between now and November 2020. But consider: The GOP’s June poll, leaked recently and reported on by The Wall Street Journal, features a Democrat in Grissom who is largely unknown across the state beating the well-known Kobach handily in a general election matchup. And that’s before Democrats have spent a dollar against him.

Having such an internal poll land in the hands of a national newspaper confirms what many Republicans have long feared: that as a nominee for a U.S. Senate seat the party has held in a vise-grip, Kobach might lose it the way he lost the governorship in 2018.

The poll gives added urgency to those yearning for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to get in the race, which he could very well command if he enters and which he still maintains he will not.

With the filing deadline next June, Pompeo can afford to sit on the sidelines while he tackles the world’s problems. But can the GOP afford it?

Perhaps its most prominent primary challenger to Kobach so far, Roger Marshall,who represents Kansas’ expansive 1st Congressional District, is scurrying to introduce himself to the eastern part of the state. Marshall, though, can expect a searing campaign against him by the limited-government Club for Growth’s Super PAC, which the club’s president, David McIntosh, said could reach “well into the seven figures.”

“We’re very interested in the Kansas Senate race and view it as an opportunity to get a real economic conservative in there,” McIntosh told CNN. “Our view on Marshall is that he’s not one.”

Control of the Senate is at stake next year. And Republicans will be trying to protect a seat — one they have held for nearly a century. And while it’s early, a poll showing the announced GOP frontrunner losing head-to-head will rightly delight Democrats, and should utterly petrify Republicans.

Even former running mates.

— Originally published in The Kansas City Star

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