Kansas GOP Insider (wannabe): A Dark Horse for the Fourth

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Dark Horse for the Fourth

It's been about 10 days since President-elect Trump's transition team announced it would snatch Congressman Mike Pompeo from representing Wichita. Since then, approximately every Republican who has ever driven past Wichita has put out feelers on the possibility of replacing Pompeo in Congress.

Sedgwick County insiders say that about 50 people have expressed interest in running for the seat. The 126 Republican delegates from the Kansas Fourth District will choose a GOP candidate to run for the seat in a special election. Of those 50-ish people, here are a list of people widely considered to be front runners:

  • Ron Estes--Estes is the Kansas State Treasurer. His wife, Susan, currently works for Americans for Prosperity-Kansas. Estes is well-liked and he and Susan are both Republican delegates to the Fourth District. Here's Estes' challenge: He's been a bureaucrat now for almost two decades now. In his elected positions as Kansas State Treasurer and as the treasurer of Sedgwick County, he hasn't had to make votes. Estes appears to be conservative, but it's really, really hard to say just how conservative when he hasn't been in any controversial positions or had to make votes. For my money, I think he's the front runner in this race, and I think he'd do a great job, but it's tough to say for sure!
  • Ty Masterson-- Masterson serves in the Kansas Senate. He's well-liked by the Republican delegation. That said, I don't know how seriously his candidacy for the Congressional seat is. He's also running for Kansas Senate President. It's unlikely he'll win the top job in the Kansas Legislature, but his candidacy for that role should give Republicans an idea of how conservative the Kansas Senate will be. 
  • Susan Wagle--Wagle is the current Senate President and is likely to retain that job, despite Masterson's efforts. Sources tell me Wagle is in the running for the Fourth District and then they tell me she's out, and then they tell me she's in again. I think she's an incredibly long shot for the gig as she's alienated most of the conservatives, and conservatives make up the majority of the Fourth District delegates.
  • Joseph Ashby--Ashby is a conservative radio talk show host, and a personal favorite, but he's a long-shot candidate. The person who succeeds Pompeo needs to earn the votes of 64 Republican delegates to the Fourth District. Ashby appears to have broad support of many of his listeners, but he needs delegates. The delegates are the penultimate party insiders. I think Ashby may have a difficult time getting 64 delegates on board. Insiders are much, much more likely to vote for someone who they think will have an edge in things like fundraising and party organization than someone who carries the conservative message.
  • Mark Kahrs--Kahrs is a well-liked insider who currently serves as Kansas Republican National Committeeman. Prior to that, he served in the Kansas House. He didn't run for another term because he said it was important for him to focus on his family for a season. I don't think his very recent retirement and reason for not running again for the Kansas Legislature bodes well for a Congressional run. If he didn't have time to serve in Topeka, it seems like a tough argument to suddenly announce you now have time to serve in Washington, D.C. (Update: Kahrs appears to be out of the race.)
  • Alan Cobb--Cobb worked for the Trump campaign, is the former director of the Americans for Prosperity-Kansas, and got his chops working for former Sen. Bob Dole. He's well-liked by insiders and knows what he's doing. There's a snag in his candidacy however. I don't think he actually lives in the Fourth; last I heard, he lives in Topeka. If he decides to run, however, Cobb has plenty of time to set up residency in his hometown and launch a campaign. Turns out, you do not have to live in the district in which you represent--you only have to live in the state you would represent in Congress. Still, I would love to see Cobb challenge for Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins' seat in the Kansas Second District. Topeka is in the Second District and Jenkins is going to run for Governor. Cobb would likely face Attorney General Derek Schmidt in a Republican primary for that seat.
Cobb may not be the only carpet bagger aiming for the Fourth District seat. The rumor mill is suggesting that Congressman Tim Huelskamp, who lost a hard fought primary against Dr. Roger Marshall in the First Kansas Congressional race, may be interested in a shot at the Fourth District seat. Guys, if this happens, watching the meltdown from Marshall campaign folks would be worth the price of admission.

Anything can happen in one of these races, because it takes more 50-percent plus 1 to win the Republican nomination. The sheer number of potential candidates means it's unlikely any candidate will become the Republican nominee on the first ballot. Whichever candidate the delegates choose will face a Democratic opponent in a special election. It's highly unlikely Republicans will lose the Fourth District seat, but we can't take it for granted. Democrats are rumored to have a pretty decent opponent lining up for a shot. It's going to be interesting to watch!

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