TOPEKA, Kan. — Kris Kobach, nationally known as an advocate of tough immigration policies and a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, launched a campaign Monday for the U.S. Senate in Kansas amid tepid support from some Republicans who voiced concern that his recent loss in the governor’s race could threaten the party’s Senate majority.
Kobach filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission creating a campaign committee for a run at the Republican nomination next year and announced in a speech Monday afternoon in Leavenworth, outside the Kansas City area. He is seeking the seat held by four-term GOP Sen. Pat Roberts, who is not running for re-election.
A spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the political arm of the Senate GOP, made clear that the group opposes Kobach’s candidacy. Republicans would be highly favored to retain Roberts’ seat and they don’t want to risk putting it in play as they defend their 53-47 majority in the chamber in next year’s elections.
“Just last year, Kris Kobach ran and lost to a Democrat,” said the spokesman, Jesse Hunt. “Now, he wants to do the same and simultaneously put President Trump’s presidency and Senate majority at risk. We know Kansans won’t let that happen and we look forward to watching the Republican candidate they do choose win next fall.”
Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state, confirmed in January that he was considering the Senate race, shortly after Roberts announced his plans. Some Republicans also speculated that he could land a prominent job in Trump’s administration, but that hasn’t materialized.
Even though Kobach’s candidacy is likely to upset some fellow Republicans, he retains support among conservatives, particularly advocates of tough policies against illegal immigration. Kobach has long alienated GOP moderates, but even some conservatives soured on him after he lost the governor’s race to Democrat Laura Kelly.
“People know what Kris Kobach and his political brand is about, and that is not something he is going to be able to change,” said University of Kansas political scientist Patrick Miller. “I think the thing he is going to have to show is that he is electable after losing the campaign for governor. He is also someone who we know from polling most Kansans don’t like — so he really needs to sell the electorate that he can win.”
Kobach’s paperwork initially misspelled his first name as “Chris,” but it was corrected later.
Republicans haven’t lost a U.S. Senate race in Kansas since 1932, and Kobach’s supporters say his national profile on immigration would help in a race. Trump endorsed Kobach in last year’s race for governor.
“This is going to blow up the Republican primary and has the potential to completely change the general election as well,” said Bob Beatty, a Washburn University of Topeka political scientist.
Beatty said Republicans traditionally cruise to a general election victory in Kansas Senate races.
“This is different,” Beatty said. “This will be two distinct elections. We’ve got this Republican primary and if Kobach were to win it, then we would have a very volatile general election, a very up-for-grabs general election.”
Kobach endorsed Trump ahead of the state’s 2016 Republican caucuses, and Trump endorsed him ahead of the GOP gubernatorial primary last year over candidates including the state’s incumbent GOP Gov. Jeff Colyer.
Kobach has been a vocal supporter of Trump’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border. He advised the Trump campaign and remained in regular contact with the president and the White House afterward. Kobach also served as vice chairman of Trump’s short-lived national commission on election fraud.
Kobach has said he turned down an undersecretary’s position at the Homeland Security Department and a White House job helping to coordinate immigration enforcement partly because, “I might not have the ability to unilaterally make a decision.”
Kobach spent years helping cities and states draft policies aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration before he became Kansas secretary of state. He helped write a tough Arizona “show your papers” law that allows law enforcement officers to ask for proof of U.S. citizenship.
Earlier this year, with Kobach mulling the race, some top Republicans nudged U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a former Kansas congressman, to enter the Senate race, but he said he was focused on his job as the nation’s top diplomat.
If Pompeo stays out, the race for the GOP nomination could become crowded. State Treasurer Jake LaTurner and Dave Lindstrom, a Kansas City-area businessman and former Kansas City Chiefs player, already are campaigning.
Other prospective candidates include U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, of western Kansas; Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt; Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, of Wichita; former Gov. Jeff Colyer, ousted in the primary last year by Kobach; Wink Hartman, a Wichita businessman who ran for lieutenant governor on Kobach’s ticket; Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, and Alan Cobb, president and CEO of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.
Among Democrats, Barry Grissom, a former U.S. attorney for Kansas who on Monday called Kobach’s agenda “extreme,” and ex-U.S. Rep. Nancy Boyda of northeast Kansas have launched campaigns.