Posted on February 21, 2020

Kobach Courts Trump as Senate GOP Frets over Kansas Seat

Manu Raju et al, CNN, February 14, 2020

Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are fearful that the conservative hardliner Kris Kobach could cost them a crucial Senate seat in Kansas and potentially their narrow majority — and are eager to find a way to defeat him in a hotly contested primary.

But Kobach is getting face time with President Donald Trump and consulting with Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, over an immigration plan that the White House is developing. And no one knows how Trump will insert himself into the GOP primary, and whether Senate Republican leaders will succeed in getting him to endorse a candidate they argue has a better chance of winning in November.

In late January, Kobach dropped by the White House and met with Kushner — and also had a private meeting with Trump and a senior White House aide where they discussed the Senate race. The President was “encouraging” at the January 27 meeting, according to a Kobach spokesperson, even though the Kansas conservative did not ask for an endorsement.


Kobach’s candidacy has unnerved GOP leaders, who worry that his sharply conservative positions, particularly on immigration, are bound to turn off middle-of-the-road Republicans, as they did when he lost the 2018 gubernatorial race to Democrat Laura Kelly. {snip}


Senate GOP officials meet with Kansas businessman

Behind the scenes, GOP leaders are eagerly looking for an alternative to Kobach. After failing to convince Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to run for the seat, they have been assessing the current field of candidates — and looking at a potential new one.

Privately, the National Republican Senatorial Committee recently met with Bob Hamilton, a father of 12 who owns a plumbing company in Overland Park, Kansas, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the session. A source familiar with Hamilton’s thinking said he is seriously weighing whether to run in the race.

“Bob Hamilton is what people are buying right now – a conservative businessman outsider,” the source said, adding that a decision could be made well before the June filing deadline for the August primary.

Yet there are concerns that the entry of Hamilton into the race will only bolster Kobach’s chances, especially in a crowded field that also includes Rep. Roger Marshall, who was first elected in 2016 after defeating an incumbent congressman, Tim Huelskamp, a favorite of the Tea Party who had drawn the ire of business and agricultural groups. {snip}


Kobach rejects the notion that his Senate race would be a repeat of the 2018 contest for governor, noting that while Democrats have long been competitive for state races, they haven’t won a Senate race since 1932. He says that while Kelly attacked him over funding for public schools, for instance, the issue set will be different during this presidential election cycle.


Senate Democratic leaders are closely engaged with the race. On a private conference call with donors on Friday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pointed to a poll showing Kobach ahead, noting he could be the nominee, according to a source briefed on the call.

Trump pulled in both directions

But Trump could have the ultimate say in pushing a candidate over the finishing line — and what he decides to do remains the ultimate wildcard. {snip}

Trump is closely watching polls in the state and has heard from multiple people that Kobach could threaten Republican control of the seat. {snip}


Democrats are hoping to take advantage of the GOP infighting in 2020, building off their success two years ago.

Democrats won races across the state in 2018, an indictment not only of Kobach but also of Trump and the legacy of former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, whose unprecedented tax cuts led to a budget shortfall worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Democrats didn’t just flip the governor’s residence, they also broke the state’s entirely Republican congressional delegation, winning one of four Kansas House seats and coming close in another conservative district.