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GOP Establishment Boosting Marshall's Kansas Senate Bid

roger_marshall_ag_leaders.jpg
Peggy Lowe
/
KCUR
U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall represents western Kansas. He is now a candidate for Senate.

TOPEKA — Establishment Republicans, who’d been coy for months about the GOP primary for Kansas’ open Senate seat, are increasingly putting their thumbs on the scale, hoping to push Rep. Roger Marshall to victory over polarizing conservative Kris Kobach.

A new GOP super-PAC this week launched what it promised will be a $3 million advertising campaign against Kobach with a spot that says he has ties to white supremacists, raising anew an issue that the former Kansas secretary of state has long battled as he advocated tough immigration policies.

The political action committee’s director previously worked for a Republican congressman and the state’s GOP attorney general, and the group shares a media company with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign.

Marshall, the congressman for western Kansas, has racked up key business and anti-abortion endorsements. Even President Donald Trump stepped in last month, persuading the anti-tax, free-market Club for Growth to abandon a multi-million-dollar ad campaign against Marshall ahead of the Aug. 4 primary, a spokesman for the group confirmed.

Establishment Republicans have increasingly taken the extra step of rallying to Marshall’s cause after months of publicly doubting Kobach’s ability to win the November general election because of his loss in the 2018 governor’s race. They’re growing more vocal about describing Marshall as the best alternative for keeping the Kansas seat out of play in a potentially difficult fall for defending Republicans’ Senate majority.

“You’re seeing a lot of people starting to circle the wagons around Roger Marshall,” said Kelly Arnold, a former state GOP chairman. “They don’t want to see the same mistakes happen again in Kansas.”

Kobach, Marshall and Bob Hamilton, the founder of a Kansas City-area plumbing company, are running with eight other candidates in the most crowded GOP field since Kansas began holding Senate primaries more than 100 years ago. The previous record was nine candidates in 1978, and Nancy Landon Kassebaum emerged as the nominee with less than 31% of the vote before winning the general election. Kansas has no runoff elections.

Republicans are nervous partly because of the fundraising prowess of the presumed Democratic nominee, state Sen. Barbara Bollier. She reported Wednesday that she has collected more than $7 million in contributions through June — including a likely Kansas record of $3.7 million in the second quarter of the year alone — and entered July with $4 million in cash.

Bollier also is a former lifelong Republican, having switched parties late in 2018, and is expected to appeal strongly to GOP moderates and independent voters, particularly in the state’s most populous counties, which carried Kelly to victory in 2018. And Bollier is a retired anesthesiologist and is expected to highlight health care issues in the fall.

Many Republicans understand that Kobach “failed President Trump,” by losing the governor’s race despite Trump’s endorsement, said Eric Pahls, Marshall’s spokesman.

“Everyone knows Kris Kobach puts this seat in jeopardy, and that is not lost on the state party,” Pahls said.

Kobach is weaponizing Marshall’s establishment support to help keep conservatives in his camp.

“McConnell World doesn’t want a staunch conservative who can’t be told to compromise,” Kobach said. “They want a pliable Republican who will take orders from McConnell.”

The first 30-second spot from Plains PAC, the new group attacking Kobach, notes that The Kansas City Star reported last year that an aide who’d been paid $500 by the Kobach campaign for field services had a history of making racist and anti-Semitic comments on a white nationalist website.

Kobach denounced the comments at the time, and spokeswoman Danedri Herbert called them “garbage” this week. She described the aide as an independent contractor, and he was fired by the campaign. Herbert said the super-PAC is recycling “old false attacks” previously leveled by Democrats.

But Plains PAC director C.J. Grover said the issue is one reason many Republicans have concluded “the man loses elections.”

“It’s not his policy positions,” Grover said. “It’s his toxic affiliations.”