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June 05th, 2020
L&T Opinions Page

Kobach’s recent loss to Kelly may be too much for voters to forget, and that is too great a risk for the GOP



Donald Trump won Kansas by 21 points in 2016. Two years later, Republican Kris Kobach lost the governor’s race to Democrat Laura Kelly by 4.5 points, a 25.5 point swing. Will Republicans make the same mistake by selecting Kobach as their candidate for the U.S. Senate?

The August primary may seem light years away as Kansans continue to adjust to life in a pandemic, but the stakes could not be higher for the Republican Party.

With a thin majority in the U.S. Senate, and key moderate seats being challenged, any surprises that flip a seat to the Democrats could flip the entire U.S. Senate, making New York Democrat Chuck Schumer the Majority Leader.

The selection of the Republican candidate to replace retiring Senator Pat Roberts could not be more important.

This seat is in Class 2 of the U.S. Senate, and Kansas has not sent a Democrat to represent that seat since 1913.

Polls indicate that Democrats have settled on Barbara Bollier as their candidate.

Republican polling continues to show a battle between former Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach and Big First District Representative Roger Marshall.

Kansas Republicans have seen this before.

In 2018, Kobach narrowly defeated Governor Jeff Colyer in the Republican Party primary by a margin of 128,838 to 128,488 —  a difference of 350 votes.

Kobach went on to lose the governor’s seat to Kelly by more than 56,000 votes.

Despite the heavy registration advantage of Republicans to Democrats in Kansas, Kelly’s campaign was able to frame Kobach as a repeat of Sam Brownback, the term-limited governor who fell out of favor with Kansans when the tax cuts he implemented did not result in the economic expansion he promised.

Kobach’s campaign was ill prepared to handle the criticism, and despite the heavy Republican advantage, Kobach was soundly defeated even though he had slight leads in the polls heading in to the election.

Independent Greg Orman was also on the ballot, but many who declared for Orman broke for Kelly. Orman was polling at 9 percent but ended with 6.5 percent. Those who moved from Orman moved to Kelly instead of Kobach.

For Republicans, Kelly’s tenure has been disastrous.

She has been accused of restricting religious liberties, she supported the expansion of abortion rights and has now slow-rolled the pandemic recovery which has adversely affected Kansas businesses.

Kobach’s loss two years ago may have voters feeling regret, but he also has the stigma of the defeat.

Kobach’s conservative positions are sound, but the recent history of a failed campaign and quick turnaround to run for the U.S. Senate will appear to be an addiction to political power. Kobach may still have a future in Kansas politics, but the loss to Kelly is too raw for Kobach to immediately seek another high-profile office.

Democrats know how to defeat Kobach.

Republicans can’t make the same mistake twice.

Maintaining the senate seat in Republican control will require winning in November, not August.

We believe the best chance for the Republicans to maintain this seat is to choose Roger Marshall.

Marshall has been a solid conservative voice in the U.S. House. 

Both Kobach and Marshall will vote the same 99 percent of the time, but Democrat Bollier would vote against Republican initiatives 99 percent of the time.

The gamble for Republicans with Kobach as the Republican nominee is simply too great.

With the balance of the U.S. Senate on the line, Kansas Republicans have to be able to win in November.

Kobach’s failed campaign against Kelly shows a weakness that would come with dire consequences in the Senate race in November. The Bollier campaign will simply run the same playbook Kelly used, and voters haven’t had time to give Kobach a fresh look. They will likely vote the way they did two short years ago.

Marshall’s campaign, on the other hand, is one of tempered reason with a House record that will not alienate the independent voters that will be crucial in November.

In the last governor’s race, Democrats and Republicans combined for 467,305 total primary voters, and 313,440 of those were Republicans. Only 153,865 Democrats voted in the primary.

But 1,028,962 Kansans voted in the general election.

When the vote doubles in November, Republicans will need a candidate that can balance the independents and use the Republican advantage to get over the top.

For that reason, we endorse Roger Marshall in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate.

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