Kris Kobach riles establishment Republicans in Kansas Senate primary

It’s a powerful image for a candidate running in a heated Republican Senate primary.

One of Kris Kobach’s TV commercials — as he bids for the GOP nomination in the race to succeed retiring Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas — shows President Trump giving the candidate a slap on the back as the president endorses him.

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But the video clip – and Trump’s endorsement – are from two years ago, when the controversial former Kansas secretary of state ran for governor and strikingly lost to Democrat Laura Kelly in the reliably red state.

Now, two years later, the president’s staying neutral in the four-way fistfight to capture the Republican Senate nomination.

“The president has made it clear, he’s not getting engaged in the race one way or another. That’s not particularly helpful in my view for Kobach, who so heavily tied himself to the president in his last run,” a national Republican strategist familiar with the primary in Kansas told Fox News.

While Trump’s staying on the sidelines, establishment Republicans have their knives out for Kobach.

FILE- In this July 8, 2019 file photo, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach addresses the crowd as he announces his candidacy for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in Leavenworth, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

FILE- In this July 8, 2019 file photo, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach addresses the crowd as he announces his candidacy for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in Leavenworth, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)

During a private presentation last week, National Republican Senatorial Committee executive director Kevin McLaughlin warned that if Kobach wins Tuesday’s primary, it could seriously threaten the GOP’s ability to keep its majority in the Senate.

“The Senate majority runs through Kansas,” McLaughlin stressed, according to a source familiar with the call. The warning was first reported by Politico and confirmed by Fox News.

It’s been 88 years since a Democrat won a Senate race in Kansas – but there’s fear inside the Beltway that if Kobach wins the primary, the streak may be over. And there are deep concerns that if Kobach becomes the nominee, national Republicans would be forced to spend millions to defend a seat that ought to be safe — millions that could be used instead to help defend the roughly half-dozen incumbent GOP senators facing extremely challenging re-election bids.

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After attempts to convince Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – a former congressman from Kansas – to jump into the race, the establishment came to the aid of Republican Rep. Roger Marshall.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a super PAC tied to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have been flooding the airwaves in Kansas with ads supporting Marshall – who was recently endorsed by the retiring Roberts as well as former longtime Sen. Bob Dole, the 1996 Republican presidential nominee.

FILE - In this Feb. 1, 2020 file photo, U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., a candidate for the U.S. Senate, awaits the start of a debate in Olathe, Kansas. (AP Photo/John Hanna, File)

FILE – In this Feb. 1, 2020 file photo, U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., a candidate for the U.S. Senate, awaits the start of a debate in Olathe, Kansas. (AP Photo/John Hanna, File)

Most internal polling indicated Marshall leading the four-candidate field until recently – when a super PAC with links to Democrats spent a whopping $5 million to slam Marshall and boost Kobach. The meddling may have made a difference, with some surveys now suggesting it’s all tied up between Kobach and Marshall.

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Democrats in Kansas have rallied around state Sen. Barabara Bollier, a Republican turned Democrat who faces only token opposition in Tuesday’s primary – and who’s outraised each of the GOP candidates.

The GOP strategist who spoke with Fox News stressed that the doom and gloom warnings about Kobach are “overplayed” and that “if Kris Kobach, by some strange feat, happens to win the Republican nomination,” he would win the general election because the president would likely carry Kobach over the top in the deeply red state.

“I think the national Republicans so hate Kris Kobach and can’t even contemplate having to deal with that guy in any capacity in Washington that they’re willing to say just about anything to keep him from getting here,” the strategist charged.

Kobach – an immigration hardliner and major Trump backer who’s endorsed by former Sen. Jim DeMint, the one-time conservative rainmaker – has slammed his rival, tweeting that “conservatives can’t trust Marshall.”

Marshall – in his pinned tweet – showcases his support for Trump during the impeachment proceedings and takes an indirect jab at Kobach, writing that while “others in this race have paved the way for anti-Trump Democrats to win time after time, I’ve been on the front lines. We didn’t stand down during the witch hunt, and we won’t stand down in the U.S. Senate.”

Also running for the GOP nomination is Bob Hamilton, the owner of a successful plumbing company who was enticed into the race by the Senate Republicans’ election arm and who’s fueled his campaign with several million dollars of his own money, and former professional football player Dave Lindstrom, who spent eight years with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs.

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