KS-Sen: In an unusual move, Kansas GOP chair Mike Kuckelman sent letters on Thursday to two Senate candidates, state Senate Senate President Susan Wagle and Kansas Turnpike Authority chair Dave Lindstrom, that asked them to drop out of the August primary in order to “to allow our Party to coalesce behind a candidate who will not only win, but will help Republicans down the ballot this November.”
Kuckelman did not mention former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who lost the 2018 gubernatorial race and who national Republicans fear will endanger their hold on this Senate seat if he’s nominated. However, there’s no question that the chair sent these messages in order to try and reduce the field and make it tougher for Kobach to win a crowded primary.
So far, though, Kuckelman’s efforts aren’t working. Wagle’s team responded to the news by saying, “Private conversations with Mike Kuckelman over the past year have made it clear he’s been opposed to Susan’s campaign from the start, and today, he simply put that on paper. Others can speculate on his motives, but it may be as simple as he doesn’t support strong, pro-life conservative women.”
Lindstrom in turn told the Kansas City Star that, while he didn’t think Kuckelman was trying to get him to leave the race, “The polling information I have, it says that I can win.” The state’s filing deadline is in early June, so the pressure campaign could last for a while longer.
Shannon Golden, who serves as the state party’s executive director, confirmed to the paper that Wagle and Lindstrom were the only candidates that Kuckelman asked to quit the race. Golden said that the party leaders wanted to set up a clear choice for primary voters between Rep. Roger Marshall and Kobach, though she denied that they were trying to undermine Kobach. Wealthy businessman Bob Hamilton and a few minor candidates are also in, and while Golden confirmed Hamilton wasn’t asked to drop out, she argued that he couldn’t win the nod. “He entered the race late,” Golden explained, “His name ID is nonexistent outside of Johnson County.”
Hamilton, though, has the resources to get his name out thanks to $2 million in self-funding. Hamilton, who also raised $156,000 from donors, ended March with a small $2.15 million to $1.95 million cash-on-hand lead over Marshall, but that margin may get larger. Marshall only raised $373,000 during the first quarter of 2020, and so far, he hasn’t done any serious self-funding. Wagle took in just $101,000 during the first quarter with $515,000 on-hand, while Lindstrom was further behind with $79,000 raised and $266,000 in the bank.
Kobach took in a smaller $239,000 during the quarter and had only $317,000 on-hand, but he may very well be tough to beat in a crowded field. Kobach, earned national infamy for his voter suppression tactics, also likely retains plenty of name recognition with the party base, and he has some powerful friends.
Notably, billionaire Peter Thiel has given $350,000 so far to the pro-Kobach super PAC Free Forever PAC, with $250,000 of that coming during the first quarter of the year. And while the anti-tax Club for Growth hasn’t taken sides in this contest, it reportedly reserved $2.1 million for an upcoming ad campaign against Marshall—a move that could very much benefit Kobach by weakening his main primary foe.
Democrats could also benefit from a Kobach win in August. National Democrats have consolidated behind state Sen. Barbara Bollier, who hauled in $2.34 million during the opening months of 2020, a figure Golden called “extremely shocking.” Bollier also ended March with $2.4 million in the bank, which was more than any of the Republicans had. Manhattan Mayor Pro Tem Usha Reddi is also seeking the Democratic nod, but she had just $65,000 to spend.