Politics & Government

Democrat Barry Grissom drops out of Kansas Senate race, endorses Bollier

Former U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom dropped out of the race for U.S. Senate Thursday and threw his support to state Sen. Barbara Bollier just a day after she announced her candidacy.

Grissom, the second Democrat to exit the race in two weeks, has outraised every candidate except for Republican Rep. Roger Marshall. His decision to withdraw suggests Kansas Democrats are clearing a path for Bollier, a close ally of Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly.

Bollier, a Mission Hills Democrat, has served in the Kansas Legislature since 2013, but until late last year she was a Republican.

Bollier was stripped of her committee assignments by GOP leaders for backing Kelly’s 2018 campaign and after the election formally switched parties. She cited frustration with the Republican stance on LGBT rights as one of the main reasons for her decision.

“State Senator Bollier has always had the courage to put politics aside in order to do the right thing, and she was instrumental in helping stop the Brownback cuts to schools, roads and public safety,” Grissom said in his statement explaining his decision to drop out and back Bollier.

“As our next U.S. Senator, I know Barbara Bollier will be an incredible advocate for working families and children, and I will do everything in my power to help elect her,” he said.

Bollier plans to draw from a similar coalition that elevated Kelly to the governor’s office and could faced the same opponent in the general election if former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach emerges as the GOP nominee.

Grissom’s withdrawal comes as a surprise as his campaign this month had been touting its strong fundraising haul.

Grissom raised nearly $470,000 from July through September, putting him ahead Kobach and Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle among other candidates.

He will have the option of refunding donors or steering money toward other candidates, including Bollier, now that he’s withdrawn from the race.

Grissom’s campaign spokesman did not immediately answer a question about what he plans to do with the money raised.

Grissom, who served as U.S. attorney for Kansas from 2010 to 2016, had faced criticism for his handling of subordinates during his tenure as U.S. attorney for Kansas.

The candidate he had been unaware of allegations against subordinates involving the use of recordings of confidential phone calls between defendants and their attorneys.

Kansas has not elected a Democrat in more than eight decades. Grissom said he was humbled by the financial support but had come to believe Bollier would be the strongest candidate.

Former Rep. Nancy Boyda dropped out of the race for the Democratic nomination just a week earlier. Manhattan Mayor Pro Tem Usha Reddi remains in the race.

“It’s unfortunate that Barry Grissom and Nancy Boyda dropped out of the U.S. Senate race for different reasons,” Reddi said in an email.

“Our democracy works best when people have choices. I have always fought for what’s right in my personal life as well as my public life and will continue to do so as we move forward.”

Grissom’s exit is a sign that Democratic leaders in the state and national party are already coalescing around Bollier, who met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democratic leaders in Washington prior to launching her campaign.

In a statement, Bollier thanked Grissom for his support and history of public service.

“I will be the voice of reason Kansans deserve in Washington I look forward to visiting with folks across the state to earn their trust and support,” Bollier said.

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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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