To the joy of national Republicans who thought this ultra-nativist vote-suppresser might well squander a U.S. Senate seat in bright-red territory, Kris Kobach lost to Congressman Roger Marshall in the Kansas GOP primary tonight. Despite a slow count due to mail-in ballots that will be counted so long as they are postmarked today, Marshall had enough of a lead (36/25, with self-funding businessman Bob Hamilton running third, with 20 percent) in competitive parts of the state to be declared the winner by the Associated Press, with a bit over half the expected vote in.
As the Kansas City Star observes, the primary became expensive and bitter:
The election culminates a stunning fall for Kobach, an informal advisor to Trump who carved out a national reputation as an immigration hardliner. Kobach had staked his chances of electoral redemption on a primary victory after he lost the 2018 governor’s race to Democrat Laura Kelly.
But groups with ties to national Republicans spent millions urging voters to reject Kobach for fear that he would again lose to a Democrat if nominated. The effort resulted in brutal TV ads highlighting how hadn’t been chosen for a position in the Trump administration and his campaign had paid a volunteer who posted on white nationalist websites.
A mysterious super-PAC alleged to have ties to the Democratic Party spent some serious money going after Marshall:
Money flowed into the race on all sides. In the final eight days before the election, outside groups booked $2.5 million in pro-Marshall and anti-Kobach TV ads, according to Medium Buying, which tracks ad purchases. A pro-Kobach group bought $419,000 in air time while a “meddling” group running ads likely to prop up Kobach purchased $2.3 million in air time.
Kobach’s friend, the president of the United States, stayed neutral in the race after helping him win the 2018 gubernatorial primary over incumbent governor Jeff Colyer with a late endorsement.
While Marshall, an obstetrician and two-term House incumbent, is considered a stronger general election candidate than the serial extremist Kobach, he’s not out of the woods just yet. Democratic nominee and state senator Barbara Bollier, who won her primary easily tonight, is, as the Star put it, “poised to wage the most competitive Democratic challenge for Senate in Kansas in years.” Another physician who was a Republican member of the state legislature for eight years before switching parties in 2018, Bollier is from the swing suburban district of Johnson County, and has raised enough money for a solid general election campaign. Her problem is that Trump is expected to carry Kansas handily (he won it by 20 points in 2016) in a polarizing contest that could make ticket-splitting difficult.
The Kansas seat is currently held by retiring Republican Pat Roberts, who endorsed Marshall. It has never been central to the Democratic strategy for retaking the Senate, but would be a nice bonus.
As for Kobach, now that the former secretary of State is a two-time loser in Kansas statewide elections, perhaps Trump will finally give him the consolation prize of some sub-cabinet post where he can wreak havoc (like his Virginia counterpart Ken Cuccinelli, who has been involved in the DHS paramilitary operation in Portland). But his future in electoral politics looks dim.