Pompeo won't run for Senate in Kansas

By Alex Isenstadt and James Arkin

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Monday to inform him that he would not run for Senate in Kansas this year, two people familiar with the meeting confirmed to POLITICO.

Pompeo, a former congressman from Kansas, had been heavily recruited by GOP leaders to run for retiring Sen. Pat Roberts' seat amid concerns that a fractured GOP primary field could put the seat in jeopardy next year as Republicans fight to protect their majority. Pompeo's decision Monday was first reported by The New York Times.

The decision comes days after the U.S. air strike that killed Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian military leader. A person close to Pompeo who confirmed the meeting attributed the decision to the recent developments in Iran.

Pompeo has been one of the administration’s top public defenders of the decision in recent days, appearing on every Sunday show this week to discuss the air strike. He will be among the administration officials coming to Congress to brief lawmakers in the coming days.

A person close to McConnell confirmed that the two spoke Monday afternoon, when the secretary of state indicated he would not run for Senate.

McConnell "believes Secretary Pompeo is doing an incredible job as secretary of state and is exactly where the country needs him to be right now,” the person close to McConnell said.

Pompeo could potentially change his mind down the road: The filing deadline for the Senate seat is June 1, and the primary is in August. GOP officials who have hoped Pompeo would run believed he could put together a campaign quickly that would clear the GOP primary field, even if the decision had been made close to the filing deadline.

If Pompeo sticks by his decision not to run, Republicans face a competitive and fractured primary field that could jeopardize a seat in a state where the party has not lost a Senate race in nearly a century. Republicans are already defending around a half-dozen vulnerable seats as they seek to protect their 53-47 majority in the chamber, and a competitive race in Kansas would be a significant blow to their efforts to maintain the majority.

Some GOP officials worry that Kris Kobach, the controversial Republican who lost the state's 2018 gubernatorial race, could put the seat in jeopardy if he emerges as the nominee. Kobach, a hardline conservative, narrowly won the GOP gubernatorial primary over then-Gov. Jeff Colyer, but he lost the general election to Democrat Laura Kelly by 5 percentage points.

Private Republican polling has shown Kobach to be formidable in the primary. He is running in the GOP field against Rep. Roger Marshall and Susan Wagle, the state Senate president, among other candidates.

"Secretary of State Pompeo has an important job leading President Trump's foreign policy team through the current conflict,” said Danedri Herbert, a spokesperson for Kobach’s Senate campaign. “The best situation for the president is for Secretary Pompeo to continue his work and for the president to have Kris Kobach, a conservative ally from Kansas, leading the charge for him in the Senate."

Democrats have rallied behind state Sen. Barbara Bollier, a former Republican who switched parties a year ago and has earned endorsements from a number of Democratic officials in Washington and in Kansas, including Kelly, the current governor, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.