GOP Primary to be Interesting—to Democrats

In one of the more interesting political machinations in recent memory, Kansas Democrats have virtually eliminated a costly and party-divisive primary election campaign for the nomination for the U.S. Senate seat being retired by Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan.

That whirlwind change? State Sen. Barbara Bollier, D-Mission Hills, formally announced she will run for the U.S. Senate. Former U.S. Attorney for Kansas Barry Grissom—a couple of months into his campaign for the nomination—about the time most of us were walking back in from the driveway with our newspapers with the Bollier-in story, got out of the race.

Bollier immediately became the No. 1 Democrat candidate to take Roberts’ chair. There are a couple other Democrat candidates for the Senate nomination: Manhattan city councilwoman and former mayor Usha Reddi and retired Sedgwick County Court Services Officer Robert Tillman, of Wichita. 

But…we’re thinking that Reddi and Tillman aren’t going to get a lot of cosigners for their races with most of the attention directed to Bollier. The Democratic nomination is essentially locked up for her, especially after the leading candidates, Grissom and former 2nd District U.S. Rep. Nancy Boyda D-Kan., looked and then dropped out of the contest.

So, for Democrats in Kansas, it’s pretty well wrapped up. Reddi and Tillman can have a good time campaigning, meeting people, probably spending less than $100,000 on their races, and generally getting free dinners and drinks at Democratic events until next August.

Republicans? Well, they have a real scrap on their hands to select a nominee, with former Kansas Secretary of State—and pretty well healed-up after his beating by Democrat Gov. Laura Kelly last  year—Kris Kobach, State Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, 1stDistrict U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, former KC Chiefs football player and restaurant owner Dave Lindstrom, Manhattan political consultant Bryan Pruitt and already-filed Gabriel Mark Robles, of Topeka, in the race.

But, practically, we’re wondering whether Pruitt and Robles would have to offer free drinks to attract enough voters to fill a room at a campaign rally.

Count on Kobach to be worth maybe 35% of the GOP primary vote, Marshall to have to introduce himself to Republicans in three congressional districts, Wagle to have to manage a typically divisive election-year Senate, and Lindstrom may have to dig out his old football jersey because, well, who knows him for owning a few Burger Kings?

At this point in the GOP campaign, Kobach’s supporters will be loyal to him, and represent the biggest identifiable portion of GOP primary voters…for now. But he’ll have a spirited and expensive and likely exhaustive primary that if he manages to win, will see him spend a lot of money that he’s going to need in the general election. 

Wagle? Marshall? Lindstrom? They will spend probably better-used campaign funds trying to defeat Kobach. Now, the party will, of course, gather behind the GOP primary winner, but the contest will be not only expensive but divisive.

That’s how primary elections work: Candidates tout their best ideas, their most politically attractive actions…and a laundry list of reasons to vote against their party’s other candidates. Chances are good that whoever survives the primary will have some flesh wounds from his/her own Republican Party voting base.

And don’t forget that every primary election issue that Republicans use to win the nomination is a primer for the Democrat who runs in the general election. Yes, Democrats will politely hold the coats of Republicans as they punch each other in the primary.

Might just make the GOP primary more interesting to Bollier and Democrats who work to win a Kansas seat in the U.S. Senate for the first time since the 1930s.

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