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Kobach launches US Senate bid in Kansas; some in GOP wary

July 9, 2019
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Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach addresses the crowd as he announces his candidacy for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, Monday, July 8, 2019, in Leavenworth, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kris Kobach, a nationally known advocate of tough immigration policies and vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, launched a campaign Monday for the U.S. Senate in Kansas amid hostility from some Republicans worried that his loss in the governor’s race could threaten the party’s Senate majority.

Kobach promised during a kickoff speech in Leavenworth outside the Kansas City area to fight aggressively for a wall along the U.S-Mexico border and to shrink government. He promised that he would “lead the charge” for Trump’s agenda and fight the political establishment in Washington as well.

The speech came only hours after the 53-year-old Kobach filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission creating a campaign committee for a run at the Republican nomination. He is seeking the seat held by four-term GOP Sen. Pat Roberts, who is not running for re-election.

“This is not a time for a quiet senator,” Kobach told about 70 applauding supporters. “It’s not a time for a senator who wants to make everybody happy and doesn’t want to take a stand. It’s not a time for a senator who’s Republican-lite.”

Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state, immediately faced questions about his electability, even though Republicans have not lost a Senate race in Kansas since 1932. He lost the governor’s race last year to Democrat Laura Kelly.

A spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the political arm of the Senate GOP, made clear that the group opposes Kobach’s candidacy. Republicans would be highly favored to retain Roberts’ seat and they don’t want to risk putting it in play as they defend their 53-47 majority in the chamber in next year’s elections.

“Just last year, Kris Kobach ran and lost to a Democrat,” said the spokesman, Jesse Hunt. “Now, he wants to do the same and simultaneously put President Trump’s presidency and Senate majority at risk.”

Earlier this year, with Kobach mulling the race, some top Republicans nudged U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a former Kansas congressman thought to be a shoo-in for the Senate seat if he wants it, to enter the race. He said he was focused on his job as the nation’s top diplomat.

Kobach alienated moderate Republicans and even some fellow conservatives in the governor’s race with his take-no-prisoners style. It was a key factor in his loss to Kelly in a state that Trump carried handily in 2016, where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats nearly 2-to-1.

“I don’t back down. I double down,” Kobach said frequently during debates.

Kobach is not only a vocal supporter of Trump’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border but an attorney for a private group trying to build sections of one. He advised Trump campaigns and has remained in regular contact with the president and the White House afterward. Kobach also served as vice chairman of Trump’s short-lived national commission on election fraud.

Some Republicans speculated that he could land a prominent job in Trump’s administration, but that hasn’t materialized, and Kobach said Monday that he doesn’t intend to take one.

Jerry Moore, a retired 71-year-old civilian employee at nearby Fort Leavenworth, said Kobach’s views on issues, including immigration, are in line with his own.

“He’s always straightforward, and he’s right on target,” Moore said.

But Some fellow Republicans view Kobach’s campaign for governor and its fundraising as lackluster. Kobach’s paperwork for the Senate campaign initially misspelled his first name as “Chris,” but it was corrected later.

Kobach dismissed the criticism as unwarranted and said a Senate race will be different, partly because the focus will be on different issues and partly because the presidential race will swell the number of voters.

But even some conservatives soured on Kobach after the loss to Kelly, and he’s alienated GOP moderates throughout his career.

“People know what Kris Kobach and his political brand is about, and that is not something he is going to be able to change,” said University of Kansas political scientist Patrick Miller. “I think the thing he is going to have to show is that he is electable after losing the campaign for governor.”

Kobach endorsed Trump ahead of the state’s 2016 Republican caucuses, and Trump endorsed him ahead of the GOP gubernatorial primary last year over incumbent GOP Gov. Jeff Colyer.

Kobach has said he turned down an undersecretary’s position at the Homeland Security Department and a White House job helping to coordinate immigration enforcement partly because, “I might not have the ability to unilaterally make a decision.”

He spent years helping cities and states draft policies aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration before he became Kansas secretary of state in 2011. He helped write a tough Arizona “show your papers” law that allows law enforcement officers to ask for proof of U.S. citizenship.

The race for the GOP nomination could become crowded. State Treasurer Jake LaTurner and Dave Lindstrom, a Kansas City-area businessman and former Kansas City Chiefs player, already are campaigning.

Other prospective candidates include Colyer; U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, of western Kansas; Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt; Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, of Wichita; Wink Hartman, a Wichita businessman who ran for lieutenant governor on Kobach’s ticket; Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, and Alan Cobb, president and CEO of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.

Among Democrats, Barry Grissom, a former U.S. attorney for Kansas who on Monday called Kobach’s agenda “extreme,” and ex-U.S. Rep. Nancy Boyda of northeast Kansas have launched campaigns.

“This will be two distinct elections,” said Bob Beatty, a Washburn University of Topeka political scientist. “We’ve got this Republican primary and if Kobach were to win it, then we would have a very volatile general election, a very up-for-grabs general election.”

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Associated Press writer Alan Fram also contributed from Washington.

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