TOPEKA, Kan. — A veteran conservative Republican legislative leader who helped block Medicaid expansion in Kansas this year launched a campaign Wednesday for the U.S. Senate, jumping into an already crowded race within weeks of nationally known immigration hardliner Kris Kobach.
Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle posted a video for supporters on a campaign website portraying her as a “relentless fighter” for conservative political causes. The Wichita Republican filed paperworkTuesday evening with the Federal Election Commission forming a campaign committee after months of considering the race for the GOP nomination next year.
She is seeking the seat held by four-term Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, who is not running for reelection in 2020. At least 19 prospective candidates have expressed an interest, and Kobach, an early and vocal ally of President Donald Trump who lost last year’s governor’s race to Democrat Laura Kelly, kicked off his campaign this month.
Other potential candidates include GOP U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall of western Kansas, who ended June with $1.4 million in his House campaign account that could be transferred to a Senate run. Some top Republicans earlier this year were nudging U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a former Wichita-area congressman, to run.
“You can’t sit around forever and wait for this gigantic, mythical figure to decide if he wants to run or not. You have to start getting your campaign going,” said Patrick Miller, a University of Kansas political scientist.
Republicans have not lost a U.S. Senate race in Kansas since 1932, and they would normally be heavily favored to retain Roberts’ seat. But Kobach’s loss last year, with a take-no-prisoners style and emphasizing proposals for cracking down on illegal immigration, has some Republicans questioning his electability.
At the Statehouse, Wagle quickly emerged as a vocal critic of Kelly’s administration. She and other top Republicans argued that a Medicaid expansion plan favored by Kelly would prove too expensive and blocked a vote in the Senate after the House approved it.
Wagle, who has previously had cancer, said health care is a crucial issue but added in her video, “Socialized medicine, which leads to long waits, poor care, lack of choice, and health care rationing, is never the answer.”
Wagle began serving in the Kansas Legislature in 1991, becoming a prominent conservative anti-abortion, anti-tax legislator during a decade in the Kansas House. She won her state Senate seat in 2000 and rose to the chamber’s top leadership job after conservative primary voters ousted moderate GOP incumbents in 2012.
She is the first woman to serve as state Senate president and the only woman Republican in the U.S. Senate race so far.
Pompeo has said he will serve as U.S. secretary of state as long as Trump wants but told Kansas City radio station KCMO last week, “I always leave open the possibility that something will change.”