Congress

Potential candidates for Kansas Senate seat reveal phone calls with Pompeo

Mike Pompeo: ‘I’m gonna be there until he tweets me out of office’

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke at the Road to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) Heartland in Overland Park Monday, Mar. 18, 2019. Pompeo answered questions about entrepreneurship, Trump, and Kansas.
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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke at the Road to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) Heartland in Overland Park Monday, Mar. 18, 2019. Pompeo answered questions about entrepreneurship, Trump, and Kansas.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently had phone calls with at least three Kansas Republicans who are openly considering running for the Senate seat for which he has also been rumored to be a potential candidate.

The phone calls within the last two weeks come amid speculation that Pompeo, a former Kansas congressman, may consider giving up his post as the nation’s top diplomat to pursue Kansas’ open Senate seat in 2020.

Pompeo has repeatedly downplayed his interest in the seat, but he’s also made a point of maintaining his ties to Kansas and the phone calls with prospective candidates could signal that he’s engaging with the race even if he has no plans to personally enter.

Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle revealed her phone call with the secretary of state when she announced her bid to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Pat Roberts in 2020.

Wagle wouldn’t say what Pompeo told her during the call, but it did not deter her from launching her campaign days later. She called Pompeo a personal friend and said he’d best serve President Donald Trump if he remained at the State Department.

But Wagle wasn’t the only Kansas Republican to connect with Pompeo in recent days. Two more potential candidates confirmed that they had phone calls with him.

Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, told McClatchy that he spoke with Pompeo by phone after the two saw each other at this month’s dinner for the Kansas Society of Washington, D.C.

“The secretary and I had a very good, private conversation. I have the highest respect and support for him and the incredible job he’s doing representing our nation as Secretary of State,” Marshall said in a statement.

In a follow-up conversation with McClatchy, Marshall declined to say whether he or Pompeo had initiated the phone call, but confirmed that his conversation with the secretary had not affected his own consideration of a Senate run.

Marshall has previously said that he and his wife will make a decision about the Senate seat in August during the congressional break. He noted in his statement that he’s been crisscrossing the state in recent months as he gears up for a potential campaign.

“Laina and my 36th anniversary is next week and I look forward to taking that time to further discuss this humbling opportunity with her, just as we have been for several months. And I look forward to continuing to add to the 83 of 105 counties I’ve visited since January,” Marshall said.

Kansas Chamber of Commerce President Alan Cobb confirmed he also had a phone call with Pompeo last week.

Cobb, a former Koch Industries lobbyist who advised President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, wouldn’t divulge the details of his call but in a statement he floated his potential candidacy for the Senate seat and noted his Trump ties.

“Kansas deserves an effective conservative leader in the Senate who will stand with President Trump. I’m the only potential contender who has been with him since day one. I continue to strongly consider running and am visiting with leaders in Washington and across Kansas about entering the race,” Cobb said.

Cobb has long-standing ties with Pompeo and was featured as a speaker when the secretary traveled to Kansas in March for a State Department-hosted event on global entrepreneurship. Cobb advised Pompeo in 2014 when he faced a contentious primary challenge from former Rep. Todd Tiahrt.

None of the three would say how the calls were initiated, but a Republican consultant familiar with the calls said that Wagle first reached out to Pompeo.

Neither Wagle, nor her political team responded to questions on how the calls were arranged. A source close to Marshall said the congressman was not aware of Wagle’s phone call before his own conversation with the secretary.

The State Department also did not immediately comment on Pompeo’s conversations with the three Republicans.

Despite his insistence that he’s not seeking the seat, Pompeo remains Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s first choice to replace Roberts.

Calls for Pompeo to enter the race have intensified in recent weeks as establishment Republicans look for a candidate who can win a primary race against the party’s failed nominee for governor in 2018, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

Kobach, who is running a campaign focused on illegal immigration, is seen by national Republicans as a weak general election candidate.

Marshall said earlier this month that Kobach’s entry into the race was expected and would not affect his decision, but that a run by Pompeo would be a “game-changer.”

Related stories from McClatchy DC

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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