Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoRussia suggests military deployments to Cuba, Venezuela an option The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Winter is here for Democrats Overnight Defense & National Security — Nuclear states say no winners in global war MORE’s decision not to seek a coveted Senate seat in Kansas has created a wide-open playing field that has energized would-be candidates on both sides of the aisle.
The decision has raised the prospect of a GOP primary field that could draw at least five or six candidates, including Kris Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state and 2018 Republican gubernatorial nominee.
Meanwhile, Democrats see Pompeo’s absence from the race as a chance to win their first Senate seat in Kansas since 1932.
For Republicans hoping to succeed retiring Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsBiden remembers Dole as 'master of the Senate' at National Cathedral Bob Dole: heroic, prickly and effective McConnell gets GOP wake-up call MORE (R-Kan.), Pompeo’s resolve to stay at the State Department clears a major obstacle.
The top diplomat would have almost certainly entered the race as the GOP’s presumptive nominee, giving him an early advantage in courting donors and hiring seasoned campaign staffers.
Pompeo, however, appeared to close the door on a Senate run during an interview on NBC’s “Today” last week, saying that he plans to stay in his current role “as long as President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump lawyers to Supreme Court: Jan. 6 committee 'will not be harmed by delay' Two House Democrats announce they won't seek reelection DiCaprio on climate change: 'Vote for people that are sane' MORE gives me the opportunity to serve as America’s senior diplomat.”
“It’s ruled out,” Pompeo said of a possible Senate campaign. “I’m here. I’m loving it.”
Only one Republican candidate has entered the race so far, Kansas state Treasurer Jake LaTurner.
Marshall met with Sen. Todd YoungTodd Christopher YoungDemocrats return with lengthy to-do list Don't just delay student debt, prevent it Senate confirms Rahm Emanuel to be ambassador to Japan MORE (R-Ind.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, earlier this month in the latest sign that he’s inching toward a Senate run.
Former Gov. Jeff Colyer, who lost his primary contest last year to Kobach, is also said to be considering a Senate bid.
Other potential contenders include Kansas state Senate President Susan Wagle and state Attorney General Derek Schmidt, as well as Matt Schlapp, the president of the American Conservative Union.
Schlapp has said that he will make a decision on a campaign after his group’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference, which is set to end on Saturday.
The crowded field of potential contenders could come at a cost.
David Kensinger, a veteran GOP strategist who managed campaigns for both Roberts and former Gov. Sam Brownback, said the absence of a political giant like Pompeo increases the chances of a drawn-out primary fight.
“Pompeo would have cleared the field on the Republican side, so his absence increases the probability of a fractious Republican primary,” Kensinger said.
That could lead to a scenario similar to the 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary, where Kansas Republicans failed to coalesce around a single candidate, he said.
That year, the party nominated Kobach, a hard-line conservative whom many Republican operatives have criticized for running a messy – and ultimately unsuccessful – campaign.
One veteran GOP operative with deep ties to Kansas said that a Senate campaign by Kobach could give Kansas Democrats their best hope of capturing their first seat in the chamber in nearly 90 years.
“If it’s Kobach, hell yes, that’s a major race,” said the operative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly about the would-be primary field. The operative noted, however, that “I don’t see Kobach getting through the primary.”
Democrats in the state are increasingly optimistic about their chances in 2020 after a successful showing in last year’s midterm elections: Laura Kelly notched a victory over Kobach in the governor’s race and Democrat Sharice DavidsSharice DavidsAbortion rights group endorsing 12 House Democrats Overnight Health Care — Presented by Altria — Vulnerable House Dems push drug pricing plan Vulnerable House Democrats warn not to drop drug pricing from package MORE ousted former Rep. Kevin YoderKevin Wayne YoderBottom line Bottom line Bottom line MORE (R-Kan.) in Kansas’s 3rd District, putting a blue dent in the state’s previously all-Republican congressional delegation.
So far, one Democrat, former U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom, has moved toward a possible Senate run. He met with Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Voting rights week for Democrats (again) Kelly takes under-the-radar approach in Arizona Senate race Hundreds attend mass funeral for victims of Bronx apartment building fire MORE (D-N.Y.) in Washington about a potential campaign earlier this month.
Another name has been floated as well: former Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen SebeliusKathleen Sebelius65 former governors, mayors back bipartisan infrastructure deal Fauci: 'Horrifying' to hear CPAC crowd cheering anti-vaccination remarks The Memo: Biden and Democrats face dilemma on vaccine mandates MORE. Sebelius, who served as governor of Kansas from 2003 until 2009, would enter the race with wide-reaching name recognition and a vast network of political connections.
But Sebelius hasn’t yet taken steps toward a potential campaign and has said she doesn’t plan to run for public office again. John Gibson, the chairman of the Kansas Democratic Party, acknowledged that a Senate bid by the former HHS chief appeared to be a long shot.
“I would be very surprised if Kathleen jumped into that race,” Gibson said.
To be sure, Kansas is a longtime GOP stronghold. President Trump carried the state by more than 20 points in 2016, and with the real estate mogul on the ballot once again in 2020, Republican candidates down-ballot could see a boost.
Gibson acknowledged that Democrats are likely to face an uphill battle in their campaign for Roberts’s seat, saying that he doesn’t “think a U.S. Senate race in Kansas is going to have a Democratic favorite.”
But he also pointed to the party’s successes in 2018 and the state’s growing Latino population, particularly in southwest Kansas, as evidence that the state may be moving toward a broader political change.
“I think we have a real opportunity in 2020,” Gibson said. “I don’t want to put that on Republican disarray or anything like that. I think, as we saw in the gubernatorial election in 2018, the political tides are shifting in Kansas.”
Republicans, however, are still bullish on their chances in 2020.
“I will bet a lot of money that whoever comes out of the [Republican] primary will be the next U.S. senator from Kansas,” said Todd Novascone, the former longtime chief of staff to Sen. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranSenate Republicans call on Biden to lift vaccine mandate for truckers crossing Canadian border Lawmakers remember Bob Dole: 'Bona fide American hero' Biden signs four bills aimed at helping veterans MORE (R-Kan.).