The filing deadline for primary candidates competing to run in the U.S. Senate race in Kansas passed Monday without notice from Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoPence to deliver keynote at fundraising banquet for South Carolina-based pregnancy center Russia suggests military deployments to Cuba, Venezuela an option The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - Winter is here for Democrats MORE, who was earlier tapped as a promising choice for the GOP.
President TrumpDonald TrumpJudge rules Alaska governor unlawfully fired lawyer who criticized Trump Giuliani led fake electors plot: CNN Giuliani associate sentenced to a year in prison in campaign finance case MORE pushed Pompeo to enter the race as recently as last month, according to The Washington Post, and was bolstered by support from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 WATCH: The Hill recaps the top stories of the week Effort to overhaul archaic election law wins new momentum MORE (R-Ky.).
Pompeo had reportedly turned down McConnell’s request in January to enter the race, despite the secretary being viewed as a strong GOP candidate to fill the seat being left open by 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.).
The Kansas race is viewed as a key seat for Republicans to win in an effort to keep control of the Senate come November, with GOP senators defending 23 seats across the country.
Republicans hold a majority in the Senate with 53 seats compared to Democrats' 45; Sens. Angus KingAngus KingEffort to overhaul archaic election law wins new momentum Manchin, Collins leading talks on overhauling election law, protecting election officials For 2022, the Senate must work in a bipartisan manner to solve the American people's concerns MORE (I-Maine) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersFilibuster becomes new litmus test for Democrats Gallego says he's been approached about challenging Sinema Democrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans MORE (I-Vt.) caucus with Democrats.
Kansas, a traditionally red state, went for Trump in 2016 but elected Democrat Laura Kelly for governor in 2018.
Eleven Republicans are competing in the primary for the GOP spot on the ticket, with failed 2018 gubernatorial candidate and former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Rep. Roger MarshallRoger W. MarshallSwalwell slams House Republican for touting funding in bill she voted down The Hill's Morning Report: Biden takes it on the chin GOP senator plans to introduce FAUCI Act after clash at hearing MORE (R-Kan.) viewed as the front-runners for the Republican candidacy.
“The conventional wisdom is that if Kris Kobach is the nominee, then it can be a competitive race,” said Patrick Miller, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Kansas, about Republicans' trepidation heading towards November.
“Whereas if anyone else is the nominee – and right now the leading ‘anyone else’ is Congressman Roger Marshall – then Republicans will have their typical advantage in the race,” he added.
They are likely to face off against Democratic Kansas state Sen. Barbara Bollier, one of two Democratic primary candidates, and who is described as a moderate centrist. She formerly served as a Republican member of the Kansas House of Representatives before switching her party in 2018.
The Cook Political Report rates the open seat battle as “lean Republican,” however the already crowded primary could play negatively for Republicans come August.
A poll conducted by the GOP polling firm Public Opinion Strategies on behalf of Kansans for Marshall, found Marshall leading with 33 percent support, while Kobach trailed at 26 percent support.
A Kobach primary win would be widely welcomed by Democrats due to his statewide electoral record. Kobach lost his gubernatorial bid to Kelly in November of 2018, and has since lost support from the Republican Party establishment.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee slammed Kobach bid for Senate last year, pointing to his statewide gubernatorial loss.
“Just last year Kris Kobach ran and lost to a Democrat. Now, he wants to do the same and simultaneously put President Trump’s presidency and Senate Majority at risk,” said Joanna Rodriguez, the committee’s press secretary.
Miller said it’s unclear how voters would have viewed the secretary joining the race, noting that no potential Republican candidates signaled they’d put their support behind Pompeo if he threw his hat in the ring.
“I think there’s been a bit of disjuncture in how Republican politicians in Kansas have treated his potential candidacy and everyone else has,” he said.
“You often see the presumption that if he got in, he’d clear the field, he’d be the obvious person to win the race,” but no Republican candidate has committed to dropping out if Pompeo jumped in, Miller pointed out.
“In fact they said the opposite, they said they’ll welcome him to the race, not necessarily drop out if he got in.”
Pompeo, a former Republican congressman representing Kansas’s 4th District, joined the Trump administration in 2017 as CIA director before being tapped for secretary of State following the firing of Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonThe West must deter aggression from tyrants better than it did last century Hillicon Valley — Blinken unveils new cyber bureau at State Blinken formally announces new State Department cyber bureau MORE.
Yet he has come under scrutiny during his time in the Trump administration over whether he has improperly engaged in political activity ahead of the Senate race in Kansas.
In January, he was cleared by the Office of Special Counsel of allegations that he had violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits a federal employee from engaging in a variety of political activity.
The investigation found there was “no evidence” that Pompeo’s multiple trips to Kansas in 2019 and on official State Department travel rose to the level of political campaigning for the 2020 Senate seat.
Yet recent reports into Pompeo’s agenda at the State Department have renewed attention surrounding the secretary’s political ambitions.
This includes a New York Times report last month that Pompeo secretly met with high-profile Republican donors on the sidelines of official State Department travel to Florida in January, as he reportedly gages support for a potential presidential bid in 2024.
And NBC news reported last month that the secretary and his wife hosted lavish dinners at Foggy Bottom, described as “Madison dinners” meant to probe big ideas on foriegn policy, but featured a guest list of conservative heavyweights and business leaders seen as more influential in domestic politics.
Democrats are looking into the details of the Madison Dinners as part of a larger oversight inquiry into Pompeo’s ousting of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, who President Trump fired last month, and whether the dismissal amounted to an illegal act of political retaliation.
Democrats have said that Linick was looking into at least two investigations involving Pompeo, that he improperly used a political appointee to run personal errands and his involvement in President Trump’s executive order to sell over $8 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.
Pompeo has said he is unaware of investigations the inspector general is undertaking, but said he had provided written answers to questions from the watchdog office “some time earlier this year” with respect to one investigation, he said in a briefing with reporters.
Pompeo has said he recommended Linick’s firing because the inspector general was “leaking information,” instigating investigations against policies Linick didn’t like. Pompeo has said that Linick was undermining the mission of the State Department.