Politics & Government

Republican launches ‘long shot’ Senate bid in Kansas, saying party needs new voices

A Kansas-born conservative commentator is returning to the state from Washington, D.C., to launch a self-described “long shot” bid for U.S. Senate. He would be the first openly gay senator from Kansas if elected.

Bryan Pruitt voiced many typical Republican views during an interview Monday and said he plans to support President Donald Trump’s re-election. But he also said the party needs to change how it speaks about abortion and add diversity to win over the next generation of voters.

“I really believe deeply that the Republican Party is at a juncture and is really going to have an exciting time (picking) a candidate who’s different, who’s diverse,” Pruitt said.

His campaign says it is centered on securing the party’s future by embracing new voices, maintaining control of the Senate and reasserting congressional authority over the executive branch.

Pruitt was born and raised in Wichita and plans to base his campaign in Manhattan. He created a campaign committee last month and a campaign website is now live.

Pruitt has lived in Washington for years. He previously worked for RedState, a conservative site where he produced RedState Gathering, an annual conference of conservative activists. He has also written conservative commentary and provided analysis on television.

Pruitt emphasized that he was moving back now, a year before the Republican primary. He said he’s a proud Kansan and has often returned to the state.

“It’s not like I’ve cut ties or anything. Our ties are very deep,” Pruitt said.

Asked about his top issues, Pruitt brought up how Republicans speak about abortion. He said men “should not be lecturing women about their bodies.” He said new language is needed to empower women and “let them know that they are in control.”

“My campaign is going to change the way we talk about the life issue. I want to hear from Republican and conservative women what they feel about this issue so that then we can talk about it together,” Pruitt said. “But too often Republicans come off looking like they’re lecturing women or they’re attempting to control women’s bodies.”

Pruitt said he is generally supportive of abortion restrictions that have survived court challenges.

Pruitt would join the handful of LGBTQ individuals to have been in the United States Senate if elected. He said he didn’t plan to make his sexual orientation a part of his campaign, but spoke about the need for fresh Republican voices.

“It’s not just Democrats that can elect diverse, new voices. I believe Republicans can, too, and that is one of the animating beliefs behind this campaign,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt has faced criticism in the past from some LGBTQ advocates, who have said that he made transphobic comments in a 2016 RedState blogpost, when he wrote that there is “not an epidemic of trans people being denied access to public facilities.”

In 2017, he resigned his position with Capital Pride after attention was drawn to the post. At the time, he told the Washington publication Metro Weekly that he was not transphobic and he had always been supportive of the trans community.

On Monday, Pruitt said that he is a defender of religious liberty and that businesses should not be forced by government to provide a particular service, with the exception of government services and public accommodations, he said.

“Sometimes the gay left, they were not gracious in victory, so there’s a lot of cultural changes where we need to have soft elbows with,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt joins a growing field of Senate candidates. On the Republican side, Kansas Treasurer Jake LaTurner, Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle and former state secretary of state Kris Kobach are already running.

On the Democratic side, former federal prosecutor Barry Grissom, former U.S. Representative Nancy Boyda, and retired court services officer Robert Tillman are running.

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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.