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Democrat tops GOP hopefuls in Kansas US Senate fundraising

April 24, 2020 GMT

MISSION, Kan. (AP) — Republicans looking to protect their majority in the U.S. Senate have been unable to match the fundraising prowess of a party-switching Democratic state lawmaker in normally reliably red Kansas.

It’s unclear how much it matters that state Sen. Barbara Bollier raised $2.35 million during the first three months of 2020 given that the potential GOP frontrunner to replace retiring Republican Sen. Pat Roberts is prominent conservative Kris Kobach.

While the more than $242,000 he raised for the quarter was a little more than a tenth of Bollier’s total, Kobach is known as a hard-right immigration policy advocate who served as Kansas secretary of state before losing the Kansas governor’s race in 2018.

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“He has some of the highest name recognition among candidates in modern Kansas history,” said Bob Beatty, a Washburn University of Topeka political scientist, who also noted that Kobach is skilled at getting free media. “When they is the case you don’t need as much money as other candidates.”

Another top GOP candidate is U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall of western Kansas who entered the race with a big bank roll but isn’t posting the same kind of numbers as Bollier. He raised $377,00 for the quarter and has $1.95 million cash on hand, thanks to a large balance brought over from his U.S. House campaign.

Marshall is blaming the coronavirus. His spokesman Eric Pahls said Marshall, a physician who is volunteering to treat COVID-19 patients, has been focused on the virus since January and canceled “all major fundraising events in March due to health and safety concerns.”

Democrats’ best hope, though, comes from running not against Marshall, but Kobach because Kobach is “net unpopular with Kansas voters,” said Patrick Miller, a University of Kansas political scientist. He said that means a lot of voters who would “vote for whatever generic Republican is on the ballot won’t vote for him.” Still, Kobach could make it on the ballot if he can woe primary voters, who tend to be more conservative.

“Democrats sense an opportunity, no matter how uphill it is, if Kobach is the nominee,” Miller said.

That has Republicans concerned because they don’t want a tough race in Kansas complicating their efforts to protect their 53-47 majority in the U.S. Senate. A Democrat hasn’t won a Senate race in the state since 1932.

GOP officials had hoped that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would enter the race and settle the confusion. But Pompeo said in January he was remaining as the nation’s top diplomat.

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“Kris Kobach is uniquely toxic in a way that puts the Kansas race on the national radar,” Miller said, in explaining the amount of money Bollier is raising. “I think that is what is different.”

Bollier, a retired Kansas City-area anesthesiologist from the affluent Kansas City suburb of Mission Hills, also blew away her competitors in the fourth quarter of 2019. Even after spending $1 million of her take, she has $2.34 million cash on hand, a sizeable sum in a low-cost media state like Kansas.

Beatty said her strong showing means that Democrats consider her “viable.”

Bollier was elected to the Legislature as a moderate Republican but switched parties at the end of 2018. Bollier campaign spokeswoman Alexandra De Luca said voters are drawn to her “fierce independent streak.” It has helped her that the suburbs of Kansas City have turned more purple following President Donald Trump’s election, as have many across the country.

Kobach has never had a a reputation as a strong fundraiser. He also struggled to raise money in the governor’s race, relying heavily on the money of his running mate, Wichita oil magnate Wink Hartman.

He said in an interview earlier this month that his brand of politics — he called it “grassroots conservatism” — relies on live events that have been canceled in favor of virtual ones. But Kobach, who had President Donald Trump’s backing in his failed gubernatorial bid, added in a statement that he was confident that the party ultimately would “choose the right nominee” and that “the Republican-nominee, standing alongside President Trump, will win again in 2020.”

Kansas GOP chair Mike Kuckelman noted the poor fundraising of two other candidates —- Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, who raised $100,918 for the quarter, and former Kansas City Chiefs player Dave Lindstrom, who raised $79,374 — in asking them to drop out in a letter Thursday. The GOP field also includes plumbing company founder Bob Hamilton, who raised $156,050 in two days after launching his campaign in the final week of March and loaned himself $2 million.

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John Hanna in Topeka contributed to this report.