TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Senate candidate Roger Marshall won the endorsement Monday of political icon and 1996 Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole, a boost for the congressman's efforts to show GOP leaders he can defeat hardline conservative Kris Kobach in the primary.
Dole's endorsement came a week after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that he would not run for the Kansas seat. Four-term GOP Sen. Pat Roberts is not seeking re-election.
“You're going to start to see the financial donors and grassroots kind of start picking a horse,” said Kelly Arnold, a former Kansas Republican Party chairman. “They're looking at Marshall as that candidate to be the one that could challenge Kobach.”
Marshall holds the House seat that Dole, Roberts and fellow Kansas GOP Sen. Jerry Moran all held before being elected to the Senate in 1968, 1996 and 2010.
Dole was Senate majority leader in 1996 when he left Congress after a total of 35 years as part of his unsuccessful run for president. He said Monday in a statement that Marshall has “my full trust.”
"I know he will represent our state well," Dole said in the statement.
In Kansas GOP circles, Dole's endorsement is prized second only perhaps to President Donald Trump's. Dole backed then-Gov. Jeff Colyer in the GOP primary in 2018, but Trump tweeted an endorsement of Kobach the day before the election, and Kobach won a razor-thin victory.
For this year's Senate race, McConnell and other Republicans wooed Pompeo, a former Wichita-area congressman, because they fear that Kobach will emerge from a crowded GOP field and put a normally safe seat in play. Democrats have not won a Senate race in Kansas since 1932.
Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state, built a national profile over two decades by advocating tough immigration policies. He alienates many moderate voters and lost the 2018 governor's race to Democrat Laura Kelly.
Doug Heye, a Republican consultant in Washington, said nominating Kobach could force the GOP to put money into Kansas that could be used in other competitive races.
Heye said of Dole's move, “It will certainly be interpreted as an endorsement against Kobach more than anything else.”
Roberts — who said in a statement that he won't make an endorsement before the August primary — called Dole's endorsement significant because “Bob’s record of service is unmatched in Kansas history.”
The leading Democratic candidate, state Sen. Barbara Bollier, announced last week that her campaign had raised more than $1 million by the end of last year. Bollier, a Kansas City-area physician, made national headlines at the end of 2018 by switching from the GOP.
Besides Marshall and Kobach, other GOP candidates for the Senate include Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle and Dave Lindstrom , a Kansas City-area businessman and former Kansas City Chiefs professional football player.
Thanks to a large carryover balance from Marshall's House campaign account, he went into the final three months with nearly $1.9 million in cash for his Senate campaign — twice as much as Kobach, Wagle and Lindstrom combined. Marshall's campaign said it raised $250,000 in the first three days after Pompeo's conversation with McConnell became public.
But Marshall has also fought a perception that he's the race's moderate despite a conservative voting record and vocal defense of Trump. He defeated a tea party conservative in the 2016 GOP primary before winning his seat.
Kobach did not immediately respond to Dole's endorsement but his campaign touted its backing from the National Association of Gun Rights.
Wagle said she admires Dole and he's a friend but said of his endorsement, “I don't think that represents the establishment in D.C. or in Kansas.”
Spokesman Karl Hansen said Lindstrom has “enormous respect” for Dole but recent elections show “Washington endorsements are of little influence.”
Associated Press reporter Alan Fram also contributed from Washington.
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