All hands on deck: Big-name Republicans flooding into Kansas to save struggling Pat Roberts and the Senate

What’s more important? Securing a Republican majority that’ll only matter if there’s a Supreme Court vacancy, and even then won’t matter much? Or sending a message to the permanent political class that dinosaurs like Roberts, who’ve spent decade upon decade on Capitol Hill, can and will be forcibly retired in the name of public accountability?


The GOP knows how to answer that question.

With a two-man race now looking all but certain, national Republicans are planning a scorched-earth offensive to frame Sen. Pat Roberts’s (R-Kan.) independent opponent, Greg Orman, as a shady businessman…

The GOP will also begin propping up the vulnerable incumbent senator with support from revered national Republican figures to help him keep the seat.

Former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) are both stumping for Roberts in the state this week, while former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) is heading there for campaign event next week. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) are both scheduled for appearances in October…

“The biggest issue that Roberts has is the conservatives are turning their backs on him,” said Steve Shute, a state delegate and Tea Party leader. “If this doesn’t get fixed in the next month or so there’s a real chance that Kansas could turn blue.”

The list above of Republicans prepared to stump for him isn’t exhaustive. Sarah Palin’s going to Kansas for Roberts too, an obvious play by his campaign to try to heal the rift with tea partiers after a nasty primary between Roberts and conservative Milton Wolf. I’m a bit surprised by that: Last October, she called on righties to shake up the same permanent political class I mentioned up top by focusing on places like Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Mississippi — i.e. Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, Lamar Alexander, and Thad Cochran. Granted, Pat Roberts and Kansas weren’t included in the group, but Roberts was a conservative target for most of the same reasons Cochran was. He’d been in Washington too long and gotten too moderate over the years. It was time for new blood. Instead, Palin’s going to campaign for him. That’s a nice show of party unity on her part and savvy insofar as she’ll be well positioned to claim some of the credit if, as lots of people expect, conservatives in Kansas grudgingly come home to Roberts and reelect him in November. But I don’t get why Cochran’s permanence was a problem if Roberts’s wasn’t.


Oh well. Ann Coulter wondered on Twitter earlier why the GOP would be bringing in RINOs like McCain and Jeb Bush if their big problem in Kansas is from Roberts being perceived as a RINO by conservatives there. Good question. It is indeed Republicans who are killing the incumbent now, per Fox News:


He’s getting crushed among independents, but if Republicans were solidly behind him in a red state like Kansas he’d still be positioned to win. Needless to say, 21 percent of his own party breaking for the unknown indie candidate isn’t what a longtime incumbent should be seeing. PPP polled the state recently and found even worse numbers for Roberts among GOPers:


Thirty-one percent of Republicans prefer No-Name to a guy who’s represented their party for decades? Gruesome. Surely this is proof of a grassroots conservative revolt against the RINO incumbent. Well … yes, but not entirely:


It’s “somewhat conservative” voters who are the most solidly anti-Roberts on the right, not “very conservative” tea-party types. Which makes sense, really: As angry as grassroots righties may be at him after the primary, they loathe Obama and would relish delivering the blow that hands the Senate back to the GOP. “Somewhat conservatives” might not feel that motivation as keenly. Besides, if you believe this recent NYT analysis of Sam Brownback’s dwindling popularity, it may be that some Kansas Republicans have decided the state’s gotten a bit too conservative in its policies lately. That would explain why Team Roberts is bringing in big-name RINOs like McCain and Jeb Bush: They’re there to soothe the “somewhat conservative” voters who are, for the moment, prepared to hand the election to Greg Orman.


Although Palin is a big “get” for the Roberts campaign, the person they really want there for him right now, I’m sure, is Ted Cruz. He’s the one guy who might be able to convince grassroots conservatives to let bygones be bygones. But Cruz took some flak after Mississippi for not speaking up more for Chris McDaniel and might be reluctant to be seen going to bat for Roberts now. It makes sense that Rand Paul will be there, to try to further ingratiate himself to a GOP establishment that’s wary of him. Cruz is firmly anti-establishment, though. It might not be good for his brand, even though it’ll earn him praise from some of his Senate enemies. Anyway, exit question: Can anyone explain this weird age breakdown from the Fox News poll?


In a contest between an old Republican who’s been in D.C. forever and a younger independent, I’d expect young voters to break for the indie and older voters to break for the GOPer. Instead, you see the opposite here. It’s the younger Kansans (and younger voters tend to lean Democratic, do note) who back Roberts and the older ones who support Orman. Why is that? Is it just an artifact of ideology, where older voters tend to be more conservative and therefore they’re more disgruntled about the primary against Wolf? Okay, I guess, but you’d think older voters would stick by a guy who’s represented them in Congress for ages.

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David Strom 8:30 PM | February 22, 2024