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Senate race rating in Kansas remains the same, for now

Republicans have held retiring Sen. Pat Roberts’ seat for 100 years

President Donald Trump greets Kansas gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach during a 2018 rally in Topeka. Kobach went on to lose that race and is running for Senate this year.
President Donald Trump greets Kansas gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach during a 2018 rally in Topeka. Kobach went on to lose that race and is running for Senate this year. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images file photo)

With the passing of last week’s filing deadline, we can finally say it: Mike Pompeo is not running for Senate, and Republicans are in danger of losing a seat in Kansas.

Even though the former congressman and current U.S. secretary of State consistently downplayed the idea publicly, rumors persisted privately for months, fueled in part by some of Pompeo’s movements behind the scenes. A Pompeo bid for the open seat was viewed as a necessity to prevent former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach from winning the GOP Senate nomination and jeopardizing a seat Republicans have held for 100 years. 

Without Pompeo, a win for Kobach in a crowded GOP primary is a real possibility. He secured the 2018 gubernatorial nomination with 41 percent of the vote in a field of seven candidates before losing to Democrat Laura Kelly.

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This year, he faces 1st District Rep. Roger Marshall, plumbing company owner Bob Hamilton and others in the Aug. 4 primary. State Senate President Susan Wagle, who was always considered a lower-tier candidate, dropped out a few days before the filing deadline. Kobach is viewed as a headache for Republicans because his 43 percent showing against Kelly was the worst by a statewide GOP candidate in at least a decade. For example, Sen. Pat Roberts, who is retiring after this term, got 53 percent in a three-way race in 2014, winning by 10 points.

In spite of Kobach’s plausible path to the Senate nomination and in the wake of Pompeo’s decision, the rating of the race remains the same because this situation had been expected since January. The current reality looked like a real possibility five months ago, when Inside Elections  changed the rating from Solid Republican to Lean Republican.

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A recent poll by Civiqs for Daily Kos, which supports Democratic candidates, conducted online from May 30-June 1, wasn’t as good for likely Democratic nominee Barbara Bollier as it might appear. She was running virtually even with all of the main GOP candidates, including 42-41 percent against Kobach, 41-40 percent against Hamilton, and 41-42 percent against Marshall. 

But it’s likely that Democratic voters have already consolidated and GOP voters are divided between multiple options, including two without statewide name ID. For example, the poll showed Bollier receiving between 95-96 percent of Democratic voters against the top three contenders, while Republican voters weren’t as unified behind their candidates (68 percent for Hamilton, 73 percent for Marshall, and 69 percent for Kobach). 

Considering that 52 percent of GOP voters didn’t know enough about Hamilton to have an opinion of him and 35 percent felt the same way about Marshall (compared with 14 percent for Kobach), Hamilton and Marshall have a higher ceiling.

The Democrats’ best, and maybe only, bet continues to be against Kobach. 

Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst for CQ Roll Call.

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