Kobach appears to launch Kansas Senate bid by misspelling own name on federal form

Update: Kansas Republican Kris Kobach officially kicked off his campaign for U.S. Senate Monday. Read the latest here.

Kris Kobach appears to be running for U.S. Senate and to have launched his campaign by misspelling his own name.

A campaign committee named Kobach for Senate filed with the Federal Election Commission Monday morning, hours before Kobach was scheduled to give a speech in Leavenworth, where he is expected to kick off his campaign.

But the FEC filing initially spelled the former Kansas secretary of state’s name as “Chris,” an inauspicious start to his campaign to replace retiring Republican Sen. Pat Roberts. The spelling was corrected about an hour later.

Kobach’s candidacy faced immediate criticism from the GOP establishment in both Kansas and Washington, which is looking to defend its Senate majority in 2020.

“Just last year Kris Kobach ran and lost to a Democrat. 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,” said Joanna Rodriguez, spokeswoman for the NRSC.

The backlash from national GOP officials is similar to the resistance against Judge Roy Moore in Alabama, who has announced a second candidacy for the Senate.

Kobach, who announced Monday morning that he would deliver a speech in Leavenworth to supporters, used an email address linked to his old campaign website to send out the press release, a move that hints toward a political announcement.

The FEC filing comes less than a year after Kobach lost the 2018 race for governor to Democrat Laura Kelly in a state where Republicans outnumber Democrats 2 to 1.

A hardline critic of illegal immigration and fixture on cable news, Kobach remains popular with a large segment of the party base. But his 2018 campaign was heavily criticized by GOP strategists for its disorganization, lackluster fundraising and inability to appeal to moderate voters.

Democrats see Kobach’s entry into the race as an opportunity to win a Senate seat in the GOP-leaning state for the first time since 1932. If Kobach wins the nomination, national Democratic donors may steer major dollars into the race.

“Kris Kobach’s entry into a divided field gives conservative Republicans a standard bearer, for sure, but I think Democratic donors will be incredibly motivated, and they will break out their checkbooks to stop someone so out of control even Trump couldn’t find a place for him,” said Kansas Democratic National Committeeman Chris Reeves.

Jared Suhn, a GOP strategist who oversaw the launch of Kobach’s 2018 campaign, warned against his entry into the Senate race and also cited his 2004 defeat as a candidate for the U.S. House.

“Republicans gave Kris Kobach the opportunity to defeat Dennis Moore and Laura Kelly and he failed both times. This isn’t about ideology— it’s about being able to put together a competent and winning campaign,” said Suhn, who left Kobach’s campaign for governor in the spring of 2018 after disagreements with the candidate.

“He hasn’t earned a third shot.”

Kansas Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican, also panned the prospect of another statewide campaign by Kobach.

“If Kobach were to be the primary nominee, significant out of state money would pour into the hands of democrats to take advantage of his ineffective campaign strategies,” Denning said in a statement. “We cannot afford to repeat his mistakes and hand another gift to the democrats.”

Following his defeat in the gubernatorial race, Kobach has emerged as one of the faces of a controversial effort to build a border wall through private funds. He serves as general counsel and as a board member for We Build the Wall, Inc., which has raised more than $24 million for a privately constructed barriers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“The average donation size was only $67. But 300,000 people did it and I would not have believed it if you told me six months ago this would happen,” Kobach said in an interview with Fox News Radio in May.

“But you know, that’s the cost of going out to dinner. Instead of going out to dinner with your wife some night or your husband, stay home and make spaghetti and chip in 67 bucks to We Build the Wall.”

Kobach’s apparent campaign launch could reignite efforts to recruit Secretary of State Mike Pompeo into the race. Pompeo remains Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s preferred candidate for the race.

Kobach sought a meeting with McConnell in early March during a visit to Washington, but was told that the GOP leader was in Kentucky, according to a source close to McConnell.

Groups with ties to McConnell have hinted that they could spend money against Kobach to prevent him from winning the nomination.

But even many of Kobach’s former supporters in Kansas have soured on the idea of him as a candidate.

Norman McLeod, a Leavenworth resident who donated $200 to Kobach’s campaign for governor, now vehemently opposes him. Kansans have soured on Kobach’s immigration positions, McLeod contends, adding that the media will “crucify him” during his Senate candidacy.

“My answer is not only no but hell no,” McLeod said of whether he would support Kobach. “Kris Kobach is toxic for the state of Kansas.”

Kobach won the primary for governor last year after a last-minute endorsement from President Donald Trump.

The president appeared with Kobach on the campaign trail and expressed his desire to hire the Kansas Republican for a post in his administration, but in the months since his gubernatorial defeat Kobach’s efforts to land a position in the administration have been unsuccessful.

Kobach joins Kansas Treasurer Jake LaTurner and former Johnson County Commissioner Dave Lindstrom in the GOP primary, but a large number of other potential GOP candidates are also considering, including Rep. Roger Marshall, Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle and Kansas Chamber of Commerce President Alan Cobb.

Marshall’s spokesman Eric Pahls said the western Kansas congressman was still weighing his decision, but added that “in a cycle where the Republican Senate majority hangs in the balance, there’s no room for error in red states like Kansas.”

Bob Beatty, a political scientist at Washburn University in Topeka, said Kobach would benefit from a large Republican primary field because he could win with a relatively small share of the vote.

Kobach’s failure in the governor’s race last year doesn’t necessarily spell trouble in the Senate race, where national topics like immigration will be at the center of the debate, Beatty said.

“In many ways, the governor’s race was a very bad fit for him. This is a much more natural election for him to run in,” Beatty said.

Lesley Clark of The McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed to this report.

Shorman reported from Topeka.

This story has been updated.

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Bryan Lowry covers Kansas and Missouri politics as Washington correspondent for The Kansas City Star. He previously served as Kansas statehouse correspondent for The Wichita Eagle and as The Star’s lead political reporter. Lowry contributed to The Star’s investigation into government secrecy that was a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize.
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Jonathan Shorman covers Kansas politics and the Legislature for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. He’s been covering politics for six years, first in Missouri and now in Kansas. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Kansas.