Mar 26, 2020 9:59 AM

Kan. GOP wonders who can defend Senate seat it's taken for granted

Posted Mar 26, 2020 9:59 AM
 Scott Canon / Kansas News Service
Scott Canon / Kansas News Service

By JIM MCLEAN
Kansas News Service 

TOPEKA — A Democrat hasn’t won a U.S. Senate race in Kansas since the early days of the Great Depression.

It took that economic crisis to propel George McGill, riding on Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal coattails, to a win. And he served but a single term.

This year, the country finds itself on the cusp of another economic calamity. The COVID-19 epidemic sent the stock market into convulsions, forced all range of business and campaigning into hibernation and put life in limbo.

If the virus continues to escalate across the country, and through Kansas, that might even jeopardize how people in the state vote and how candidates might influence them.

What’s more, the man Republicans thought could most easily hold the U.S. Senate seat that incumbent Pat Roberts is walking away from has, finally, said he’s not interested.

That has the GOP bracing for a bruising primary anchored within its conservative wing — and debating who would run the greatest risk of losing a seat the party’s long been able to take for granted.

Democrats, in turn, see at least a slugger’s chance of sending one of their own.

“It’s a long shot,” said Washburn University political scientist Bob Beatty.

Yet if an anti-Trump wave builds in the state’s suburban population centers, he said, “Democrats want to have a candidate that can take advantage of it.”

In 2016, Trump won Kansas by 21 percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton. But several polls taken in the last two years and the election of Democrats to Congress and the governor’s office in 2018 suggest that a political shift is possible.

The biggest factor could be who Republicans choose to take on likely Democratic nominee Barbara Bollier, a state senator from vote-rich Johnson County. She defected from the Republican Party just last year.

Republican leaders had pinned their hopes on U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He represented Wichita in the U.S. House before joining Trump’s cabinet. But after equivocating for months, he decided not to run.

That, according to early polls, left former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as the frontrunner. That’s got some Republicans nervous.

 Kris Kobach won the Republican primary for governor in 2018, but he lost the general election. Credit Scott Canon
Kris Kobach won the Republican primary for governor in 2018, but he lost the general election. Credit Scott Canon

Their anxiety stems from Kobach’s loss to Democrat Laura Kelly in the 2018 governor’s race.

Joanna Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told Politico in July that a Kobach nomination would put the party’s “Senate majority at risk.”

In the same article, Roberts said Kobach’s 2018 loss would make winning the Senate race “more difficult.”

U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall from western Kansas seizes on those concerns to advance his bid for the nomination.

Marshall says his internal polling suggests he’s got the best chance of winning the November general election.

“It shows us winning by 10 or 20 points while other people in this (primary) race would be in jeopardy of losing,” Marshall said.

Referring to Kobach’s 2018 loss, Marshall asks, “how does a Republican lose a governor’s race in a state that President Trump carried by double digits?”

Republicans at the very top of the party share his concerns, Marshall said. He said the issue of Kobach’s candidacy had come up in meetings with Senate Majority Mitch McConnell and President Trump.

“I always try to keep my consversations in the White House very private,” Marshall said in a recent interview. “But I’ll tell you this, the president is very concerned about keeping the Senate majority.”

 Former Gov. Jeff Colyer, right, endorsed U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. Credit Jim McLean
Former Gov. Jeff Colyer, right, endorsed U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate. Credit Jim McLean

Marshall, a retired doctor, represents the 1st Congressional District covering roughly two-thirds of the state. He appears to be Kobach’s chief rival for the nomination. Other candidates include Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle and former Kansas City Chiefs player Dave Lindstrom.

Kobach insists his two successful campaigns for secretary of state show that he can win a statewide general election.

“I will certainly win again,” Kobach said.

Kobach’s connection to Trump benefitted him in previous races. It was the president’s last-minute Twitter endorsement that many believe helped him narrowly defeat sitting Gov. Jeff Colyer in the 2018 gubernatorial primary.

Kobach would like history to repeat, but he doesn’t sound confident when asked if he expects to have the president’s backing.

“Obviously it’s always a great advantage to have the president’s endorsement, but I’m not going to try to predict whether he’ll get involved,” Kobach said.

The concerns raised about his candidacy, he said, come from “establishment” Republicans who fear he’ll be too independent.

“Some of the moderate establishment is uncomfortable with a strong conservative in the Senate seat,” he said. “They would rather have somebody who can be forced to compromise, somebody who doesn’t hold firm on issues.”

Kobach is a polarizing figure. The same hardline positions on immigration and ballot security that endear him to his conservative base alienate moderates and independents.

Marshall has the opposite problem. Despite a voting record that he said aligns with President Trump “98% of the time,” some conservatives remain skeptical of him.

That doubt stems from Marshall’s 2016 primary win over Tim Huelskamp, an incumbent Tea Party favorite.

The national conservative-leaning Club for Growth spent about $400,000 to help Huelskamp. Some of that money paid for a TV ad calling Marshall “a liberal backed by political insiders.”

The group is now working to deny Marshall the U.S. Senate nomination. The Club for Growth recently spent more than $30,000 to place full-page ads in several newspapers that featured anonymous complaints from what it claimed were some of Marshall’s former patients.

Eric Phals, Marshall’s campaign manager, called the ad “garbage” from a “dark money group out of the D.C. swamp.”

Some big-name Kansas Republicans are endorsing Marshall in an attempt to head off a Kobach nomination. They include former Senator and 1996 presidential nominee Bob Dole and Colyer, the former governor defeated by Kobach in the 2018 primary.

“He (Marshall) is a candidate that I’m certain Republicans and all Kansans can get behind for the general election,” Colyer said in endorsing Marshall at a recent news conference in Topeka.

Kansas Democrats believe a Kobach win in the August primary would boost their chances in November.

That’s not entirely wishful thinking, said Michael Smith, an Emporia State University political scientist. He said if Kobach is the Republican nominee, the Senate race could play out much like the 2018 contest for governor.

“A Democratic woman stressing moderate themes, health care and good government defeating Kobach in the general election, it happened in 2018 and it could happen again,” Smith wrote in a recent column for Kansas outlets.

 Barbara Bollier, a former Republican, is running for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat. Credit Jim McLean
Barbara Bollier, a former Republican, is running for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat. Credit Jim McLean

Bollier, the likely nominee and a retired doctor, who switched parties last year. Touting her moderate credentials and “ability to bridge partisan differences,” she raised more than $1 million during her first three months on the campaign trail.

The people donating to her campaign, Bollier said, “want to see a change in the kind of leadership they have representing them in Washington.”

“They’re tired,” she said, “of bickering.”

Jim McLean is the senior correspondent for the Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks or email [email protected]

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Mar 26, 2020 9:59 AM
Plan meals before shopping during a quarantine, expert says
Photo by Scott Warman on Unsplash

Food provides opportunities for fun, reassurance at home

MANHATTAN – In normal times, most consumers don’t think twice about a quick trip to the grocery store to pick up a few items.

But these are not normal times. With the threat of the new coronavirus, COVID-19, hanging over most of the country, “social distancing” has become a commonly understood term, one that makes planning trips to the grocery more important.

“In our home, the new object of the game is to see if we can put off a trip to the store,” said Sandy Procter, a nutrition specialist with K-State Research and Extension. “We are challenging ourselves to not make the quick, short trip, if that’s still possible, and to wait until we have a more complete list. It’s our way of trying to minimize those trips and the (social) connections that we are supposed to avoid right now.”

Procter said “it makes more sense than ever to have a plan” when shopping for a quarantine or during a time when we should avoid being around others.

“And then we need to follow that plan and utilize what we have on hand before we make what used to be a second-natured, quick trip to the grocery store,” she said. “We need to be a little more intentional in how we shop; do some work ahead of time to plan meals, then use what we have on hand so that we can keep our distance until things get better.”

Planning a week’s worth of meals isn’t always easy for some. “I have friends who write day-to-day menus in their normal life, and that works well for them,” Procter said.

“But for others – and especially those of us who may have multiple people in our homes for meals that we don’t normally serve – it’s going to take some adapting on the fly.”

Procter offered a few tips for planning meals:

  1. Buy items in bulk. Instead of buying grab-and-go breakfast bars, buy a box of bulk oatmeal instead. You can provide a lot of servings at once, and it’s often less expensive.
  2. Start with the basics, such as sugar, flour or other items that help you make food from scratch. “Quick meals are maybe not as important right now as much as having enough variety on hand to make flexibility a key part of menu planning,” Procter said.
  3. Buy shelf-stable foods. Fresh produce is great, but to avoid multiple trips to the store during the week, be sure to buy canned goods too. “Foods that are in cans or frozen are packed at their peak of nutritional value, so we know that those are healthy foods,” Procter said. “Use the fresh items first, then incorporate those that will keep longer.”
  4. Include kids in meal planning. “They will probably have some good ideas, and there are lessons that can be shared, too,” Procter said. It’s one of those times that we will think back on and you’ll appreciate having the time to hang out with the kids and teaching them to cook.”

“All of this may be a little hard to adjust to,” Procter said, “and you’re probably going to have some cabin fever setting in soon, if it hasn’t already. But think of family activities that are going to be welcome and reassuring, like cooking or baking or cleaning up together after you’ve had a food experiment or activity.”

Planning meals will also help consumers use common sense and avoid the temptation to hoard goods: “Don’t purposely clear out a shelf in the grocery store of something you need,” she said. “If there are six on the shelf, and you need just one or two, don’t take all six. Leave some there for the next guy.”

“Take what you need, use it, plan well, incorporate everything you have into those menus and be smart about using all of our resources now.”

For more information, visit the K-State Research and Extension food nutrition and safety webpage.

K-State Research and Extension has compiled numerous publications and other information to help people take care of themselves and others during times of crisis. See the complete list of resources online.

Local K-State Research and Extension agents are still on the job during this time of closures and confinement. They, too, are practicing social distancing. Email is the best way to reach them, but call forwarding and voicemail allow for closed local offices to be reached by phone as well (some responses could be delayed). To find out how to reach your local agents, visit the K-State Research and Extension county and district directory.