Monday, August 10, 2020

Race of the Day- Kansas U.S. Senate

Kansas U.S. Senate
85 Days Until Election Day
Status: Republican Open
2016 Presidential Result: Red State (Midwest)
Outlook: Leans Republican

Is there a doctor in the House? Certainly a few. There will also be a doctor in the Senate representing Kansas next year. I cannot recall any other races between two physicians. I am sure it has happened, but perhaps not for an open Senate seat.
Republicans got a break in this month's primary in terms of the winner, but still, deep divisions exist in Kansas among Republicans, and they are still going to play a factor in this race. Right now, there is reason to believe the general election has currently started out as very competitive. I think the Democrat will probably come closer than any has in a Kansas Senate election in generations. Nonetheless, a member of the party has not been elected to the Senate there since 1932, which is long before Donald Trump, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders were even born. Bob Dole may remember it though. His closest reelection campaign came against a doctor too.
Dole first came to the Senate after the 1968 election after previously representing the sprawling "Big First" western district of Kansas. The year he left the Senate, Pat Roberts, then a veteran Congressman from that district also was elected to the Senate. Current Kansas junior Senator Jerry Moran has followed the same path from the 1st House district to the Senate and now Republican Congressman Roger Marshall looks to be in good shape to do the same.
Roberts is retiring from the Senate after 24 years there and 16 prior in the lower chamber. Once a highly popular figure who united both wings of the Kansas GOP, his last reelection campaign was perilous. He had mostly been away from the state and had to contend with a primary challenge to his right. In the general election, Democrats threw in behind a moderate Independent, but the national party came to Roberts rescue and he won a near double digit victory.
Democrats have been able to capture the Governorship of Kansas on some occasions, such as 2018, but have not broken through at the Senate level. A variety of party members were mentioned as potential candidates to either face a politically weakened Roberts or contend for an open seat. They eventually found themselves in a situation similar to 2014, when the primary winner stepped aside for an Independent. This time though, they would bring someone into their party, hoping for better luck.
Barbara Bollier is the daughter of a physician and became one herself. She is also married to one. In 2010, she was appointed to the Kansas House, as a Republican, and in 2016 was elected to the State Senate as a member of the GOP. There have been divisions, long preceding the Trump years in Congress between moderate or more establishment Republicans and those further to the right. Bollier was considered a moderate and clashed in Topeka on some issues with more hardline party colleagues. In 2016, she joined other moderate Republicans, who have been known to endorse Democrats, in supporting one of them for Congress. This got her stripped of a position as a Committee Vice Chair. In 2018, she would join others in the party in backing the ultimately successful female Democrat over the polarizing Republican nominee. Then, after that election, Bollier formally became a Democrat, joining a couple of others. After jumping into the Senate contest, Democrats were more than willing to overlook her past Republican credentials and she won nomination by an overwhelming margin over a perennial candidate.
The party had gotten a great stroke of luck in 2018 when Secretary of State Kris Kobach won a crowded primary for Governor, defeating more electable candidates, including the acting incumbent. Kobach, who had already had a Congressional loss under his belt, made a name for himself as a hard charging conservative on issues such as immigration and in his concerns of potential voter fraud. This brought him to the attention of Donald Trump, whom considered him for a high profile Cabinet post. Ultimately, even the Trump team decided that Kobach may be a political liability. This freed him up though to run for Governor and while the party tried to rally against him in order to prevent a potential November defeat, Donald Trump Tweeted a last minute endorsement of his candidacy, allowing Kobach to very narrowly capture the GOP nomination. With the party not unified behind him, Kobach lost to Democrat Laura Kelly 48-43.
Undeterred, the now former Secretary of State jumped into the race for Roberts' Senate seat and made Republicans quite nervous again. After all, Kobach had a loyal base of support and high name recognition. A slew of others jumped into the race, which only seemed likely to help Kobach. Some would drop out, but ultimately, it was an 11 way primary.
By now, the party establishment had pinned their hopes on First District Congressman Roger "Doc" Marshall, an Ob/Gyn and retired captain in the Army Reserves. In 2016, he defeated a controversial conservative incumbent in the Republican primary in his initial election to Congress. In Washington, Marshall complied a conservative voting record, but remained friendly with moderates as well. Earlier this spring, he used his medical background to treat Covid 19 patients in a clinic and also pointed out that he was taking Donald Trump's favorite malaria drug as a precaution against the virus.
Throughout the Senate primary, Marshall played up his ties to Trump and his support of him. Republican leaders such as Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly urged Trump to endorse Marshall ahead of the primary, but Trump refused to do so. While he did not repeat his primary endorsement of Kobach from two years earlier, he clearly still had a soft spot for the anti-establishment choice, or had people around him who were telling him to not endorse Marshall.
The results six days ago came as a relief to Republicans from Capitol Hill on down. Marshall not only defeated Kobach but did so by 14 points. Reporters interviewed conservative primary voters who said they were not only sold on Marshall but feared that Kobach might lose again. One one other in the crowded field hit double digits, as wealthy plumbing businessman Bob Hamilton received 19 percent of the vote, about seven points behind Kobach. He had tried to play the negativity of the race between Marshall and Kobach against both men, similar to a strategy used by a lesser known primary candidate in Indiana two years ago, and by portraying himself as the true outsider, but that did not work.
With the nomination of Marshall, Republicans seemed to think that despite Bollier's credibility as a candidate and appeal to moderate or recent former Republicans the race was now a "done deal" and Democrats would have to look elsewhere for pickups. I think that is being a little bit too overconfident. Late last week, a Democrat polling firm came out showing Marshall ahead by just one point. This has jazzed up Democrats, but I think they need to be realistic as well. The primary has just ended and some of Kobach's die-hard supporters, or those of the other candidate may not quite be ready to embrace Marshall, who took 40 percent of the primary vote.
There is no reason to believe that Marshall will not run in the general election as a staunch conservative. Trump is still likely to carry Kansas and the party will portray former Republican Bollier as being too far to the left. National divisions and a rising trend towards Democrats in suburbs will keep this from being a blow-out, but at the end of the day, a Democrat has not been sent to the Senate from Kansas since the Great Depression. For now, I will classify this race as Leans Republican, but it could move more strongly towards the party by the end. Kobach may very well have ended the long winning streak for Kansas Republican Senate nominees, but Marshall probably will continue it.

U.S. Senate races predicted thus far:

5 D (2 Safe, 2 Lean, 1 Tossup) 
7 R (2 Safe, 1 Likely, 3 Lean, 1 Tossup)

Total with predictions thus far:

40 Democrats (35 holdovers, 2 Safe, 2 Lean, 1 Tossup)
37 Republicans (30 holdovers, 2 Safe, 1 Likely, 3 Lean, 1 Tossup)


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