Kobach Senate run faces uphill battle

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TOPEKA, Kan. (KAKE) -

Kris Kobach returned to Kansas politics Monday with a big announcement. 

“This is a time, I believe, that we all have to heed what JFK said and ask what we can do for our country because our country needs us.  And that's what brings me here today.  Today I am announcing my candidacy for the United States Senate,” the former Kansas Secretary of State announced to the cheers of dozens of supporters gathered at the Leavenworth Riverfront Community Center Monday afternoon.

Kobach says he’s the best choice to keep Roberts’ seat in Republican hands and helping the president pursue a conservative agenda.  But many Republicans, both in Kansas and in D.C., fear his run will hand the seat over to a Democrat.  Republicans currently only hold a three seat majority in the Senate.

“Look, I’ve run in three statewide elections,” Kobach said.  “I’ve won two out of the three.”

Kobach was elected in 2010 and again in 2014 to be Kansas Secretary of State.  He lost his bid to be Kansas Governor in 2018.

His campaign for the Senate started off with a stumble as, while filing federal election paperwork, someone on his staff misspelled Kobach’s first name.

“We had a whole bunch of people helping over the past week and I don't even know who was the person who transcribed it.  But it's not the first time that Kris has been misspelled in my case,” he laughed.

That misstep didn’t slow down dozens of Kobach’s supporters who came out Monday to cheer him on.  They say they like his candor and consistency on the issues.

“I respect him.  He's a wonderful person.  He's honest and I support all of his… everything that he stands for,” said supporter Christine Berkley of Topeka.

The main themes of Kobach’s campaign will be familiar to anyone who’s followed his political career.  He promised to concentrate on building a wall on the border with Mexico, using his experiences over the last few months working with the group We Build the Wall as a guide, protecting the constitution from liberal attacks on things like gun rights, abortion restrictions and voting rights, and shrinking the size of the federal government through attrition as Baby Boomers retire, much as he did with the Kansas Secretary of State’s personnel.

Despite his popularity with conservative Republicans, Kobach came into the campaign with a cloud over his head – losing a statewide race less than a year ago to Democrat Laura Kelly.  Political analysts say he still has enough support in what’s likely to be a crowded field of Republican candidates to win the nomination, but maybe not enough to beat a strong Democrat in the general election.

“Kobach running does increase the chances of a Democrat winning the Senate seat.  But the chances are still small,” said Dr. Neal Allen, head of the Political Science Department at Wichita State University. 

He believes, though, that Kobach could still pull in 25% to 30% of the primary vote, enough to win the nomination if as many Republicans decide to run as are expected. 

“If Kobach becomes the Republican nominee, then it's probably a 50/50 race,” he said of the general election.

Shortly after Kobach’s announcement Monday, the Senate Leadership Fund, tasked with electing Republicans to the Senate, released a statement pointing out Kobach’s losses both to Governor Kelly last year and to Rep. Dennis Moore in 2004.

“Kansas Republicans deserve a nominee who can win.  SLF’s only objective is ensuring Pat Roberts’ Senate seat doesn’t fall into the hands of Chuck Schumer and D.C. Democrats.  While we haven’t made any decisions about our engagement, after last year’s gubernatorial result, it is imperative Republicans put our best foot forward in Kansas,” said SLF Communications Director Jack Pandol.

Many Kansas Republicans reached out to KAKE News via social media Monday to express their concerns about Kobach’s running. 

When asked how he would win back those skeptical Republicans who had left the Kobach train, he said, “Well, a lot of people in Kansas for years have called themselves Republican.  But then, of course, every single cycle, they come out and oppose the Republican candidate for whatever the office is…So, I would take it with a pinch of salt, the idea that Republicans are somehow against someone who stands for constitutional principals.”

Kobach says this will be very different from his recent run for the governor's office.  It will include new campaign staff, a more aggressive ground game and new fundraising methods.

He currently faces State Treasurer Jake LaTurner and former Kansas City Chief Dave Lindstrom in the bid for the Republican nomination.

U.S. Representative Roger Marshall has told KAKE News he has full blessing from his family to make a run for the seat as well, but hasn’t made any official announcements yet.  State Senate President Susan Wagle is expected to announce a bid.  And many conservative Republicans hope U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will come back to Kansas to run as well.

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