McConnell Moves to Bolster GOP Odds in 2020 Kansas Senate Race

Laura Litvan and Jennifer Jacobs

(Bloomberg) -- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell appears to be moving swiftly to help bolster GOP chances of keeping an open Senate seat in Kansas in November, after U.S. Secretary of State and former Kansas Representative Michael Pompeo said this week that he won’t be running.

McConnell spoke in his Capitol Hill office Tuesday with Representative Roger Marshall, a Kansas Republican who entered the Senate race in September.

“The meeting was very positive and productive,” Eric Pahls, Marshall’s Senate campaign manager, said. “The congressman appreciated the majority leader’s time.”

Control of the Senate is in play in the November elections, and Democrats need three or four seats for chamber control, depending on whether or not President Donald Trump is re-elected. While Kansas is heavily Republican, the retirement of fourth-term GOP Senator Pat Roberts, who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee, is creating an opening for the minority party.

The Kansas seat could be at risk if former Kansas Secretary of State and 2018 GOP gubernatorial nominee Kris Kobach prevails in the Republican Senate primary in August, and McConnell’s camp isn’t hiding that the majority leader wants another candidate. Kobach, a Trump ally and controversial immigration hard-liner, defeated Kansas Governor Jeff Colyer in the 2018 primary for governor, only to suffer a stunning defeat to Democrat Laura Kelly in the general election.

McConnell hasn’t settled on a preferred candidate, a person familiar with the situation said.

Democrats also are targeting the Kansas seat after Roberts won re-election in 2014 with just 53% of the vote. The leading Democrat in the race, state Senator Barbara Bollier, said Tuesday that she raised more than $1.1 million in the fourth quarter of 2019, the biggest haul among candidates in the race, the Kansas City Star reported.

The newspaper earlier reported on the meeting between McConnell and Marshall, who was first elected to the House in 2016.

In a moment that seemed to further underscore the importance of the contest for the majority leader, McConnell was seen on the Senate floor on Wednesday talking with both Roberts and the state’s other Republican senator, Jerry Moran.

--With assistance from Steven T. Dennis.

To contact the reporters on this story: Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net;Jennifer Jacobs in Washington at jjacobs68@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Joe Sobczyk at jsobczyk@bloomberg.net, Bill Faries

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