Multiple presidential contenders made their way through the Sunflower State last year to campaign for Gov. Sam Brownback and U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts as they faced tough re-election contests.
Now that those contenders are becoming official candidates, will Brownback and Roberts repay the favor by actively campaigning for any of them?
U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rand Paul, R-Ky., both of whom have announced they are running for president, made trips to Kansas to campaign for Roberts. Paul’s political action committee, Rand PAC, even produced a television ad in support of Roberts.
“We have a long way to go in this campaign season, and like most Kansans, I’m eager to see which candidate can earn the majority of the support within our party, but it’s premature to endorse at this time,” Roberts said in an e-mail. “What I know for certain is that the nation needs a Republican President.”
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has also announced a bid for the presidency. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who won the straw poll at the Kansas Republican Party’s annual convention earlier this year, is expected to announce soon. Neither made his way to Kansas last year, but plenty of potential candidates did.
Other possible candidates who made trips to the state during the last election include New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
There will be a gap between what candidates who campaigned for Roberts and Brownback think they’re owed and what they’ll actually receive, said Chapman Rackaway, a political scientist from Fort Hays State University.
“All of them are going to be thinking, well, clearly the Kansas GOP establishment with their great voter and, especially, great donor base needs to endorse me, but all of them are jockeying for it and only one of them can get it,” he said.
Rackaway noted that in many election years, Kansas’ presidential caucus is an afterthought. But if no clear frontrunner emerges in the early weeks of the primary process, “then suddenly it’s huge” coming on the heels of Super Tuesday. The caucus is expected to take place in early March.
He said that Roberts’ support is “up for grabs” because he hasn’t developed a close relationship with any of the younger senators running and isn’t particularly close with the Bush family.
Brownback ‘a Rick Perry guy’?
Christie made multiple trips to support Brownback. The Republican Governors Association, which Christie chairs, spent more than $4 million in support of Brownback’s re-election.
But Rackaway noted that Brownback has close friendships with Jindal and Perry.
“Perry, Brownback and Jindal are actually quite close, like more close than you would normally expect political figures being … they go back, they talk regularly,” Rackaway said. “If Perry or Jindal gets into this race, then Brownback is instantly going to put his support behind them.”
Bob Beatty, a political scientist at Washburn University, also contended that if Perry runs, he would have the best chance of winning Brownback’s support.
“To be blunt about it, Brownback is a Rick Perry guy,” Beatty said. “He talks about Perry. Texas is mentioned as the model for Kansas. If Rick Perry announces ‘I’m running for president,’ I think it would be hard for Brownback to endorse someone else.”
Beatty said Brownback’s support could be very helpful for a candidate – and not just in Kansas.
“He has appeal among evangelical Christians … it could bolster the credentials (of a candidate) on the ground in a place like Iowa or South Carolina,” he said.
Asked if Brownback had a preference among the candidates, Jon Hummel, his chief of staff, smiled and said the governor hadn’t decided yet. He said there were a lot of good candidates in the field. “A good problem to have,” he added.
Moran’s focus ‘will be on Kansas’
Rackaway contended that the most desirable endorsement to win will be that of U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, who will also be on the ballot in 2016. Moran has been credited by many for helping create the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
“I think that Moran being popular with a wide swath of people across different shades of Republicanism – if someone can secure Moran’s support, I think that is a real feather in their cap,” Rackaway said. “I think that will be a significant advantage.”
Moran said in a phone call that at this point he has no particular favorite among the presidential candidates. He said he would wait to see how the presidential race develops and keep his focus on his own race.
“Certainly, I’m desperately anxious for a new president and would appreciate the opportunity of helping a Republican get elected,” Moran said. “If I can help someone become president, that’s useful to me in my ability to better represent Kansans as a United States senator, but having said all that, I would indicate that my primary focus through the general election will be on Kansas and will be on my own race, not somebody else’s.”
Moran did speak more generally about the type of candidate he hopes will emerge victorious in the primaries.
“We need a good Republican candidate, somebody that can present a point of view that’s a better direction for the country than what we have today, but also somebody who can get elected,” Moran said. “It’s important for us to nominate a candidate that has the ability to appeal to voters in a variety of states.”