Politics & Government

Kansas business leader close to Pompeo won’t run for Senate after considering campaign

A Kansas business leader with longtime ties to Mike Pompeo will not run for U.S. Senate after weighing a bid for months — renewing speculation about whether the secretary of state will enter the race.

Alan Cobb, the president and CEO of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, in the past has said he would defer to Pompeo if the chief diplomat decided to mount a campaign.

Cobb, a former Koch Industries lobbyist, advised Pompeo in 2014 during a congressional primary battle against former Rep. Todd Tiahrt. He made no mention of Pompeo in a lengthy statement Thursday announcing his decision.

Cobb said that “after months of serious deliberation, analysis, and careful and prayerful consideration with friends, colleagues and my family, I have decided that the best place for me to pursue my passion is to remain as the President and CEO of the Kansas Chamber.”

The announcement comes as Pompeo navigates a growing controversy over President Donald Trump’s efforts to press Ukraine into investigating Joe Biden. Under Pompeo’s leadership, the State Department has refused to cooperate with an impeachment inquiry into Trump underway in the House.

“There has been, I would argue, a change in the dynamic since the Ukrainian phone call and impeachment proceedings,” said Bob Beatty, a political scientist at Washburn University. “Those things make it – I’m not saying likely, but certainly increase the possibility that Mike Pompeo in the spring could still jump in the Senate race.”

Beatty said that was likely enough uncertainty that Cobb doesn’t want to devote six months of his life and money “for such an iffy proposition.”

David Kensinger, a GOP strategist who has managed statewide campaigns for retiring Sen. Pat Roberts and former Gov. Sam Brownback, said Cobb’s decision “opens the door for Mike Pompeo to enter the race.”

“Alan Cobb was probably the potential candidate most similar to Pompeo in philosophy and approach, and this underscores that if Pompeo decides to run, the field is wide open for him,” Kensinger said.

Time running out

For his part, Pompeo has sidestepped questions about whether he will ultimately run in numerous interviews before the Ukraine scandal broke. He told The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star in a September interview that he is aware of the “noise” and speculation over a possible Senate run.

But he reiterated that he intends to serve as secretary of state as long as Trump wants him in the job. When pressed, he said of his comments: “You can take it however you’d like.”

Pompeo is one of the few figures in Kansas politics who could enter the Senate race next year and still mount a credible campaign. He enjoys a national profile unlike any other candidate in the race and has roughly $1 million sitting in a dormant House campaign account.

Kelly Arnold, a former chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, cautioned against reading Cobb’s decision as having a bearing on whether Pompeo runs. But for everyone besides Pompeo, time is running out to jump in.

“Anything after Thanksgiving, it’s just going to be difficult to try to get people to try support you as they’ve already made commitments to other candidates,” Arnold said.

Who’s running?

The Republican field appears to be solidifying.

Rep. Roger Marshall, former state secretary of state Kris Kobach, state Senate President Susan Wagle, former Chiefs player Dave Lindstrom and media commentator Bryan Pruitt are all running. Kansas Treasurer Jake LaTurner dropped out to mount a primary challenge against Rep. Steve Watkins in the 2nd Congressional District instead.

Some Republicans fear Kobach, who lost the 2018 governor’s race to Democrat Laura Kelly, will be able to leverage a diehard base of supporters to win the primary because the other candidates will split the vote.

Kobach opponents say he would be a weak general election candidate, placing a decades-long streak of sending Republicans to the Senate in jeopardy. Kansas hasn’t elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since the 1930s. Kobach has said the Senate race is different than the governor’s race.

Cobb’s decision not to run means fewer candidates who could potentially split the anti-Kobach vote.

“By Cobb not running, I would argue that probably does help Marshall,” Beatty said.

On the Democratic side, former U.S. Attorney Barr Grissom, Manhattan Mayor Pro Tem Usha Reddi and retired court services officer Robert Tillman are running. Former Congresswoman Nancy Boyda announced Thursday she was dropping her bid.

Kansas City Star reporter Jason Hancock contributed to this story

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