Pompeo seen as top recruit for Kansas Senate seat

Senate Republican strategists are pushing Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoThe US must do its part in closing the largest outdoor prison in the world Trump rejects Iran's denial about attack on oil tankers, pointing to video Trump rejects Iran's denial about attack on oil tankers, pointing to video MORE as a failsafe candidate to keep retiring Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsEPA exempts farms from reporting pollution tied to animal waste EPA exempts farms from reporting pollution tied to animal waste Conservatives spark threat of bloody GOP primaries MORE’s (Kan.) seat in Republican hands in 2020, fearing the state could give Democrats an upset victory. 

The push comes as Kansas Republicans have been chastened by recent Democratic victories in the state’s race for governor, where Laura Kelly beat conservative Republican Kris Kobach, and a key House race, where Democrat Sharice DavidsSharice DavidsEx-congressman launching PAC to defend Dem seats in 2020 Ex-congressman launching PAC to defend Dem seats in 2020 Freshman Democrats call on McConnell to hold vote on election reform bill MORE beat incumbent Rep. Kevin YoderKevin Wayne YoderK Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers Kansas Senate race splits wide open without Pompeo Mike Pompeo to speak at Missouri-Kansas Forum amid Senate bid speculation MORE (R). 

“We lost a governor’s race. We lost a key House race for a seat that was held by Republicans for several terms. We can’t afford to head into November of 2020 worried about whether a Republican can hang onto the Senate seat in a Republican state like Kansas,” said a Senate GOP strategist.

“If Mike Pompeo is the nominee in Kansas, the race comes off the map,” the strategist added. “And, by the way, he would make a phenomenal senator.” 

ADVERTISEMENT

Republicans are also worried about a strong Democratic performance in the 2020 presidential election, when Democratic turnout is typically stronger, and Trump’s low popularity in suburban areas, as seen in the 2018 midterm election.

Strategists say that Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzTed Cruz, AOC have it right on banning former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists Ted Cruz, AOC have it right on banning former members of Congress from becoming lobbyists Overnight Health Care: Democratic bill would require insurance to cover OTC birth control | House Dems vote to overturn ban on fetal tissue research | New rule aims to expand health choices for small businesses MORE’s (R) narrow reelection over liberal Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) in Texas opened their eyes to the danger faced by Republican candidates even in deep-red states because of the unpredictable political currents stoked by Trump. 

“Trump has a serious problem with urban women,” said a third GOP strategist with strong ties to Kansas. 

“Even in Texas, there was a massive undervote where 300,000 Republican voters who supported Greg Abbot didn’t support Cruz,” the source added, referring to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's reelection.

There’s fear among Republicans that Trump may weigh on the federal race by turning off middle-of-the-road Republicans and suburban women. 

The GOP strategist with Kansas ties noted that two lawmakers from the Kansas City suburbs, state Sen. Dinah Sykes and state Rep. Stephanie Clayton, last month announced they would leave the Republican Party to represent their districts as Democrats. 

“I’m sure McConnell is nervous,” the source said, speculating that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOvernight Defense: Trump doubles down on claim Iran attacked tankers | Iran calls accusations 'alarming' | Top nuke official quietly left Pentagon | Pelosi vows Congress will block Saudi arms sale Overnight Defense: Trump doubles down on claim Iran attacked tankers | Iran calls accusations 'alarming' | Top nuke official quietly left Pentagon | Pelosi vows Congress will block Saudi arms sale McConnell defends Trump amid backlash: 'He gets picked at every day' MORE (R-Ky.) would love to see Pompeo run for Roberts’s seat. “If you can have someone like Kevin Yoder lose in the 3rd District, I would be nervous. That state is purple.”

The Kansas Senate race made Republican leaders in Washington sweat in 2014 when Roberts ran into a tougher-than-expected challenge from independent challenger Greg Orman, who was expected to caucus with the Democrats. 

Polls showed Orman leading Roberts weeks before Election Day, but the Republican senator rallied to win by 10 points.

Roberts, at the urging of leadership-connected strategists in Washington, hired campaign whizz Corry Bliss to turn around his floundering campaign. 

The big question is whether Pompeo would be interested. He is one of Trump’s most trusted advisers and secretary of State is generally seen as a more prestigious position than senator. 

Former Sens. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonYoung Turks founder says Democrats should avoid repeat of 2016 and pick a progressive Young Turks founder says Democrats should avoid repeat of 2016 and pick a progressive Trump highlights polls that showed Clinton beating him by double digits MORE (D-N.Y.) and John KerryJohn Forbes Kerry'Landslide' for Biden? A look at 40 years of inaccurate presidential polls Trump campaign considering making a play for blue state Oregon: report Trump campaign considering making a play for blue state Oregon: report MORE (D-Mass.) both left Congress to head the State Department under former President Obama. 

But Trump’s Cabinet has been marked by a rapid rate of turnover, and favorite advisers can find themselves quickly on the outs, such as former Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisTop nuclear official quietly left Pentagon in April Top nuclear official quietly left Pentagon in April Overnight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves 3B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One MORE and former White House chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE.

The State Department press office did not respond to a request for comment Friday. 

Republicans currently control 53 seats in the Senate but they face a much tougher election map in 2020 than they did in 2018, when they picked up two seats. The GOP will have to defend 22 Senate seats next year. 

The early focus has been on vulnerable incumbent Sens. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerMcConnell defends Trump amid backlash: 'He gets picked at every day' McConnell defends Trump amid backlash: 'He gets picked at every day' The Hill's Morning Report — Uproar after Trump's defense of foreign dirt on candidates MORE (R-Colo.) and Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report — Uproar after Trump's defense of foreign dirt on candidates The Hill's Morning Report — Uproar after Trump's defense of foreign dirt on candidates Democratic challenger to Susan Collins announces Senate bid MORE (R-Maine), who face reelection in states Clinton carried in 2016, but the announcement Friday that Roberts will not run for a fifth term has also put Kansas on the map. 

“Everyone would like him to run because he was strong in his district and I think he’s got a million dollars in his campaign account,” said another Republican strategist. “He graduated No. 1 in his class from West Point.” 

Pompeo represented Kansas’s 4th District for three terms in the House before Trump tapped him to serve as Central Intelligence Agency director in 2017. He consistently won reelection with more than 60 percent of the vote. 

A report filed with the Federal Election Commission shows that his old House campaign account has $989,000 in cash on hand. 

State Rep. J.R. Claeys (R), who served as Kobach’s campaign manager in his 2018 gubernatorial bid, said fears of a Democratic takeover in Kansas are overblown. 

But he acknowledged that Pompeo would rise to the top of the field if he decided to run for the Senate. 

“I don’t know about it being a seat vulnerable to Democrats. I think that’s probably an inflated claim. We’ve got the longest streak in the nation, I think, on holding both seats in Republican hands,” he said. “I think we’ll have a solid field on the Republican side."

“But, yeah, I think Pompeo would definitely rise to the top of any field of candidates,” he added. 

Claeys said he doesn’t know what Pompeo might be thinking, but speculated the race could be tempting given that he would be an early favorite.

“I think it would be hard for anyone in that position to not consider it,” he said. “He’s the secretary of State right now. It would be tough for him to give up that position to run for Senate, though I do think he would consider it.” 

Claeys said other possible candidates include Rep. Roger MarshallRoger W. Marshall95-year-old Bob Dole promoted from Army captain to colonel Kansas Senate race splits wide open without Pompeo The Hill's 12:30 Report: State of the Union takeaways | Sights and sounds from the night | Virginia attorney general admits he wore blackface MORE (R-Kan.) from the 1st District, sitting Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer, who took the job when former Gov. Sam Brownback left to become an ambassador, and businessman Wink Hartman.  

Meanwhile, Matt Schlapp, chairman of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), is believed to be considering a Senate bid and started to get calls about a potential run on Friday, according to The Washington Examiner.

Kobach could also run for the seat and be a serious contender, although Claeys said he’s unsure if his former boss is interested. 

Another name that has emerged is recently retired Rep. Lynn JenkinsLynn Haag JenkinsAnti-corruption group hits Congress for ignoring K Street, Capitol Hill 'revolving door' K Street giants scoop up coveted ex-lawmakers Pompeo seen as top recruit for Kansas Senate seat MORE (R-Kan.), who represented the 2nd District. 

But Jenkins recently got married and is starting her own lobbying firm, so GOP strategists don’t think she’s likely to run for Senate.