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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, July 31st, 2020

Scramble for the Senate: Democrats delight in forcing Republicans to play defense in Kansas

As the Unit­ed States grinds towards the Novem­ber gen­er­al elec­tion, it is becom­ing increas­ing­ly clear to polit­i­cal experts that Repub­li­can chances of hold­ing on to the White House, or win­ning the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, are rapid­ly vanishing.

Nation­wide, Don­ald Trump is ten points behind Joe Biden and Biden main­tains a com­fort­able lead in all the key swing states.

Mean­while, esti­mates of the gener­ic House bal­lot show that Democ­rats have been ahead of the Repub­li­cans by around nine points for months.

The only ques­tion remain­ing for many Repub­li­can lead­ers – par­tic­u­lar­ly Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader Mitch McConnell – is whether the par­ty will be able to hold onto their major­i­ty in the U.S. Sen­ate. If the Democ­rats flip the Sen­ate in Novem­ber, they would con­trol all three branch­es of gov­ern­ment for the first time in a decade – and it could spell the end of the Repub­li­can Par­ty as we know it.

As things stand, the Democ­rats need to win four seats to flip the Sen­ate (or three seats, with Biden’s Vice Pres­i­dent act­ing as a tie-breaker).

They are cur­rent­ly giv­ing the Repub­li­cans heart­burn in a num­ber of races, most promi­nent­ly Ari­zona, Col­orado, Maine, and North Car­oli­na.

Both par­ties are pour­ing vast sums of cash into these races, but the Repub­li­cans are fac­ing a drain on their cof­fers from an unex­pect­ed source – the deep, deep red state of Kansas. Kansas is a citadel of Repub­li­can­ism and has not elect­ed a Demo­c­rat to the Sen­ate since the 1930s. In 2016, Don­ald Trump won the Sun­flower State eas­i­ly, beat­ing Hillary Clin­ton by twen­ty points.

How­ev­er, the Repub­li­can Par­ty’s grip on Kansas’ Sen­ate seat has been thrown into doubt by the retire­ment of Sen­a­tor Pat Roberts and the can­di­da­cy of a con­tro­ver­sial fig­ure: Kris Kobach. Kobach has spent his career whip­ping up con­tro­ver­sy both inside and out­side his state for his extreme­ly xeno­pho­bic views and his will­ing­ness to use his pow­er to enact that ideology.

In the ear­ly 2000s, Kobach trav­elled the coun­try help­ing local author­i­ties to set up uncon­sti­tu­tion­al pro­grams to tar­get immi­grants. In 2010, he became Kansas’ Sec­re­tary of State and spent eight years in office dream­ing up ways to attack minor­i­ty com­mu­ni­ties. Dur­ing the time he was respon­si­ble for run­ning state elec­tions, vot­er turnout dropped by over 100,000.

Kobach has glee­ful­ly described him­self as “the ACLU’s worst night­mare” – inad­ver­tent­ly (or per­haps not) com­par­ing him­self to orga­ni­za­tions such as the Klu Klux Klan and the Amer­i­can Nazi Par­ty that the ACLU has famous­ly confronted.

After two terms as Sec­re­tary of State, 2018 seemed set to be the biggest year of Kobach’s life. He was cho­sen by Trump to co-chair a nation­al inves­ti­ga­tion into so-called “vot­er fraud” and ran for gov­er­nor with the President’s endorsement.

But it all went wrong. His com­mis­sion was unable to present any evi­dence of vot­er fraud, and was dis­band­ed. While he whit­tled away his guber­na­to­r­i­al run chas­ing after phan­tom ille­gal vot­ers (and dis­en­fran­chis­ing a lot of legit­i­mate vot­ers along the way) his Demo­c­ra­t­ic oppo­nent, Lau­ra Kel­ly, ripped into the incum­bent Repub­li­can admin­is­tra­tion of which Kobach was part for dis­as­trous trick­le-down eco­nom­ic poli­cies that had ruined the state’s finances.

In Novem­ber, Lau­ra Kel­ly won by a com­fort­able mar­gin, humil­i­at­ing both Kobach and his par­ty in a state that should have been an easy win for them.

Many in the Repub­li­can lead­er­ship learned the les­son and swore nev­er to run such an incom­pe­tent, divi­sive can­di­date ever again.

Kobach had oth­er ideas. His entry into the race for the U.S. Sen­ate has thrown the Repub­li­can pri­ma­ry into tur­moil. The party’s estab­lish­ment has put their thumb on the scale in favor of State Sen­a­tor Roger Mar­shall, a reli­able fundrais­er who is deeply con­ser­v­a­tive and loy­al to Trump.

Kobach has sought to por­tray Mar­shall as a tool of insid­i­ous Wash­ing­ton D.C. inter­ests. Mar­shall hasn’t been helped by the fact that he is def­i­nite­ly the establishment’s sec­ond choice; Mitch McConnell spent almost a year unsuc­cess­ful­ly try­ing to per­suade U.S. Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo to enter the race before back­ing Marshall’s candidacy.

Kris Kobach speaks to voters at a recent campaign event – without a mask, of course

Kris Kobach speaks to vot­ers at a recent cam­paign event – with­out a mask, of course (Pho­to: Kris Kobach for Senate)

In nor­mal cir­cum­stances, the back­ing of the Repub­li­can estab­lish­ment would be enough to put Kobach back in his box – the for­mer Sec­re­tary of State now has a record as a los­er in a state where Repub­li­cans almost nev­er lose, and is not the best at fundrais­ing – but a vari­ety of fac­tors have com­pli­cat­ed the situation.

Kobach has received large dona­tions from groups with Demo­c­ra­t­ic links, who are try­ing to set Kobach up to be a more beat­able gen­er­al elec­tion candidate.

On the oth­er side of the polit­i­cal spec­trum, the Sil­i­con Val­ley bil­lion­aire (and pur­vey­or of dystopi­an sur­veil­lance sys­tems) Peter Thiel has thrown hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars at Kobach’s cam­paign, inspired their shared views on immi­gra­tion (Thiel, him­self a Ger­man immi­grant, is a “pull-up-the-ladder-after-you’ve-climbed-it” kind of guy) and a mutu­al friend­ship with the gen­uine­ly evil Ann Coul­ter. There are also a num­ber of oth­er can­di­dates in the mix, includ­ing a self-fund­ing mil­lion­aire and a for­mer Kansas City Chiefs foot­ball player.

All this con­fu­sion – made worse by a lack of reli­able polling – means that the nation­al Repub­li­can Par­ty and the groups affil­i­at­ed with it are being forced to pour resources into a state that should be safe for them.

Unlike the can­di­dates in the messy Repub­li­can pri­ma­ry, Demo­c­rat Bar­bara Bol­lier has an easy ride. The State Sen­a­tor is the only Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date run­ning for the seat, allow­ing her to hoard cam­paign dona­tions for the gen­er­al elec­tion while her Repub­li­can rivals blow their funds attack­ing each other.

As a result, she is cur­rent­ly beat­ing the Repub­li­cans in fundraising.

Bol­lier is not a can­di­date who will excite pro­gres­sives. In 2010, she was elect­ed to the state House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives as a Repub­li­can, and stayed with the Repub­li­cans until 2018, when she dra­mat­i­cal­ly announced she would cross the aisle to the Democ­rats. Her stat­ed rea­sons for leav­ing her par­ty were Trump’s lack of lead­er­ship and the Kansas Repub­li­cans’ oppo­si­tion to LGBT+ rights.

That leaves open the ques­tion why she didn’t leave in 2017, when Trump praised neo-Nazis and insti­tut­ed sys­tem­at­ic child abuse on the U.S.–Mexico border.

Barbara Bollier hopes to be the first Democrat in 90 years to represent Kansas in the U.S. Senate.

Bar­bara Bol­lier hopes to be the first Demo­c­rat in 90 years to rep­re­sent Kansas in the U.S. Sen­ate. (Pho­to: Bar­bara Bol­lier, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

The tim­ing of her switch – just a month after the midterms, where Democ­rats swept through sub­ur­ban dis­tricts like hers – offers a more plau­si­ble rea­son for Bollier’s deci­sion: she saw which way the polit­i­cal winds were blowing.

Bollier’s asser­tion as she changed par­ties that the Repub­li­can was “hell bent on remov­ing mod­er­ates” sug­gests that her ide­ol­o­gy remains pret­ty much unchanged, and that all that’s changed is the let­ter next to her name. Rein­forc­ing that idea is the fact that she has promised to avoid vot­ing along par­ty lines – mean­ing that even if she wins, the Democ­rats can hard­ly rely on her dur­ing close votes.

Bol­lier faces steep odds in this elec­tion, regard­less of how the Repub­li­can pri­ma­ry turns out. In a year when Don­ald Trump tops the bal­lot and is run­ning ahead of Joe Biden by dou­ble dig­its (accord­ing to research by Pub­lic Pol­i­cy Polling, NPI’s poll­ster), elect­ing a Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date to the Sen­ate will be difficult.

Nev­er­the­less, pro­gres­sives can take plea­sure in the unusu­al sit­u­a­tion unfold­ing in the Sun­flower State. The more Repub­li­cans are forced to invest in a state they ought to be dom­i­nat­ing, the less resources they have to throw against bet­ter Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates in more uncer­tain races.

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One Comment

  1. The more states we can kick Repub­li­can incum­bents out of, the bet­ter. Kansas is a great oppor­tu­ni­ty for us. 

    # by Diane Fowler :: August 3rd, 2020 at 5:30 AM
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