On Monday, The New York Times reported that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that he does not plan to run for the open Senate seat in Kansas, dashing McConnell’s hopes of clearing the primary field and increasing the odds that Democrats can make the seat competitive.
McConnell has for months been courting Pompeo, who has flown back to his home state to give interviews and appeared to be laying the groundwork for a Senate run. President Donald Trump had also given his blessing if Pompeo wished to leave the administration to run, and was putting out feelers for a new Secretary of State.
But although polls suggested Pompeo would be an instant favorite to win the GOP nomination, there were potential obstacles for Pompeo. For one thing, he is implicated in the Ukraine scandal, and there is no way for him to gracefully leave the administration. He may also not want to risk disrupting State Department leadership at a moment when war with Iran looks increasingly likely.
Kansas Republicans have a headache with Pompeo not in the race. There is a very good chance now that the nomination could go to Kris Kobach, a disgraced former elections official who was repeatedly smacked down in court for trying to strip people of voting rights and has ties to white supremacists. Kobach ran for governor in 2018, only to lose to Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly. On the flip side, Democrats have recruited an unusually strong Senate candidate in state Sen. Barbara Bollier, a former Republican who left the party to protest its extreme agenda.
Kansas is deeply red at the federal level and has not sent a Democrat to the Senate since 1932. But McConnell fears the perfect storm of conditions in 2020 could break that streak. A Pompeo candidacy was his best hope to prevent that — and now it’s off the table.