The Rough and Rowdy Republican Senate Primary Here in the Sunflower State

There’s an open Senate seat up for grabs in Kansas, which only happens every generation or so, and it’s proving very interesting. The Republican field is now down to three viable candidates, and they’re now going after one another with a ferocity unfamiliar to this politely Republican state.
The three Republicans left standing are Kris Kobach, a former Kansas Secretary of State, Roger Marshall, a former obstetric an gynecology doctor and two-term Congressman for the vast and rural First District of the state, and Bob Hamilton, a successful plumbing and heating and air conditioning entrepreneur from the Kansas City suburbs. At first their advertising in our mail boxes and on the local news broadcasts was all about who was most loyal to President Donald Trump, which struck us as odd given that Trump has never been very popular even among the state’s Republicans, but lately they and their allied political action committees have taken to accusing one another of all sorts of horrible things, ranging from Republican heresies to outright corrupt and criminal behavior.
At the beginning of the race the presumptive frontrunner was Kobach, but even then he had problems. As Secretary of State he instituted to such seemingly commonsensical rules as as requiring a photo identification to vote, but his anti-immigration zealotry soon led to rules that were challenged in the courts, and the Yale Law School graduate Kobach not only wound up losing the American Civil Liberties Union but having to pay fines for contempt of court. He was rewarded for his efforts by Trump, who appointed him to chair a commission to prove that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton only won the popular vote because Democrats conspired to have more than three million illegal ballots cast, but the effort was disbanded because of opposition from both Democratic and Republican Secretaries of State, and even Kansas ws restricted by law from providing some of the information Kobach demanded, and the commission never issued a report.
Nonetheless, Trump so appreciated the effort that he offered Kobach the job of “immigration czar,” which we find nowhere in the Constitution, but that didn’t happen after Kobach gave a list of demands that included regular use of government jets for his weekly inspections of the southern border. Still, it was enough that a political action committee funded by the free-market Club For Growth could accuse of him of letting Trump down. Kobach responded that the Club For Growth is an anti-Trump organization, which was true when there were when still other Republicans vying for the Republican presidential nomination, but since Trump seized the nomination they’ve been pretty docile, and Kobach can’t claimed to have done Trump much good.
Worse yet, less than two years ago Kobach managed to lose a gubernatorial to a Democrat, and a woman Democrat at that. Gov. Laura Kelly is the sort of centrist Democrat that Kansans elect now and then, and Kobach’s anti-immigration didn’t prevail in a state where immigrants are sustaining the economy in the southwest quadrant of the state and are providing hard work and great food and friendly interactions everywhere else. All the Republican poobahs back in D.C. were horrified by the possibility that that he might lose a seat the Republicans had held for 100 years, and polls where showing that the presumptive woman Democratic nominee was ahead, and even Trump was urging former Kansas Congressman and Central Intelligence Agency director and current United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to run for the seat, but the ambitious Pompeo decided for reasons indiscernible to us to stay put in the Trump administration,
For now the Republican establishment seems to prefer Marshall, who won his Congressional seat by winning a primary against Rep. Tim Huelskamp, whose anti-establishment zealotry had so annoyed the party’s leadership that he lost Kansas’ place on the House Agriculture Committee. Since then Marshall has continued to campaign as a moderate voice of reason, but he also trumpets that he’s a loyal soldier in the party of Trump. There have been ads showing him express doubts about a border wall while addressing Wichita Pachyderm Party, and endorsing notoriously moderate Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich for president over Trump, and that won’t play well with the significant portion of Kansas Republicans are pro-Trump and anti-establishment. It’s also come out that he was once charged with reckless driving, and had the charges and sentenced reduced by a politically-connected judge.
Hamilton seems anodyne enough, the sort of pragmatic self-made businessman that Kansas Republicans like, but a group called Kansans for Marshall accuse him of “tweeting” nice things about Hillary Clinton, supporting the lesbian and gay and bisexual and transgendered rights movement, and various other wrongdoings. So far as we can tell from what’s left of the Kansas media there’s some truth to it but has been overblown.
At this point someone stands accused of wanting to give thousands of jobs to foreigners, but that’s because of H1B visas that only go to people with rare educational credentials and are unlikely to join a street gang and are need to keep America’s high-tech industry competitive, but at this point we can’t keep up with it, or who’s funding which ad and what their motives might be. The only thing we’re sure of is that who ever winds up winning will emerge victorious but dirtied.
In an ordinary election year in Kansas that wouldn’t matter much. Since it came into the Union as a proudly Republican Free State in 1861 Kansas had only three Democratic Senators, the last one elected in 1932, and usually the Democrats nominate someone who will placate the liberal base but won’t put up a real fight. The Republicans usually nominate someone sensibly Republican and conservative and more less centrist, who won’t get kicked off the Ag Committee, and everyone in the the state is accustomed to Republicans winning.
The annus horribillis of 2020 is not an ordinary election year, however, in Kansas or anywhere else, and from the barstool where we’re watching all those internecine attack ads on the evening news from political sidelines we think the Republicans should be worried. The only times Kansas ever gave its few electoral votes to a Democratic presidential nominee were in the landslide elections of 1932 and ’64, and even then the margin was slim, but the latest polling shows the presidential race is tight not only in Kansas but also in Texas and Georgia and Arizona and other reliably Republican states, with Trump trailing in the “swing states.”
The presumptive Democratic nominee for the Kansas seat is Barbara Bollier, a retired anesthesiologist who has long served in the Kansas legislature without any scandals or taint of left-wing tendencies, and is facing only token opposition from cranks with no name recognition or funds to launch any attacks on her character or record. The Democrats who nominated all those far-left sacrificial lambs in past elections will decry her centrism, but they’ll show up on Election Day to vote against whatever Republican she’s running against, as she’ll come out of the primary un-muddied, and for now she’s neck-to neck with all the Republican contenders.
At the moment the polling suggests that presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden is slightly ahead of Trump in Kansas, which means he’ll need to spend time and money here that usually would have spent elsewhere, and with Texas and Florida and Arizona and Colorado and other once-reliable Republican states in play it could be a disaster for Trump and his Grand Old Party, even here in Kansas.

— Bud Norman

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