With the results of the Texas and Alabama Senate Primary Runoffs on Tuesday, we have entered a three week sprint to the next set of dates, and the single most consequential primary left on the board – at least in terms of general election impacts. Joe Kennedy versus Ed Markey will be fun, but in terms of who holds the Senate, Kansas Senate – Kris Kobach versus Roger Marshall – is the main event. Democrats want Kobach, the former Kansas Secretary of State who lost to Laura Kelly for the Governorship in 2018, because they think he puts the race in play, which is why a Mitch McConnell backed Super PAC is spending millions to beat him right now in the run up to the primary.
The thing that much of the commentary around the race misses, however, is that there’s a chance that the GOP could lose the seat even if Marshall gets over the line – a much reduced one, but still, a chance. Civiqs last month didn’t show much difference between how Democrat Barbara Bollier did against either candidate, but other polling shows an effect. That all said, there’s a path to a Democratic win that relies not on Kobach’s specific failures but the President’s.
Kansas is a state of four Congressional Districts, with the 1st and 4th as the sprawling rural ones, the 2nd is the outer suburban one that has gone blue in each of the last two Governor’s races but Paul Davis couldn’t flip at the House level in 2018, and then we have the Kansas 3rd, the Kansas City suburbs seat that the GOP have been decimated in in recent years. If Kansas is going to be competitive, the Democrats need to stretch out their performances in the 2nd and 3rd Districts and close the gaps in the 1st and 4th. In 2018, Kelly was able to do that in 2018, and her victory shows how it can be done.
A key part of Gov. @LauraKellyKS' win last year was that she demolished @KrisKobach1787 in #KS03 (Kansas City area). 85% of the district's votes come from suburban Johnson County; Kelly won basically every major city there, even though some voted for Sam Brownback in 2014. #ksgov pic.twitter.com/ceZbVPoAyx
— J. Miles Coleman (@JMilesColeman) May 18, 2019
The first part of it is this map courtesy of J Miles Coleman of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, which shows what a moderately good night in the Kansas 3rd looks like versus a very good one. If that Quinnipiac polling showing Biden up 33% with college white voters is even remotely true, then Bollier will be able to match – if not exceed – that margin in the 3rd. The seat, full of college whites who either moved from the rural parts of Kansas to the Kansas City suburbs or from the Missouri side of the border to the Kansas side, made up over 30% of votes cast in 2018, so if Bollier can make real inroads, she can make a run at the state.
For the sake of argument, say Bollier gets a 25% win out of the 3rd – consistent with Kelly’s 2018 performance and a better environment – and she has a formidable base to grow from. If Democrats can replicate their margins in the 2nd from 2018, where Kelly won by just under 10%, the Democrats would be netting a lead of about 10% of the vote after adjusting for how much of the vote is expected in the other two districts. That may seem aggressive, considering the GOP held the 2nd at the House level in 2018, but the GOP incumbent there just got charged with voting fraud, so Democrats either get a wounded incumbent or an untested primary challenger who won because they were the only ones standing when the music stopped. Either way, the DCCC will likely be dumping money in there because of the recent news, helping Bollier. And the thing is, if the Democrats can do that well in the two eastern districts, the GOP could outperform Kobach’s 2018 performance in both the 1st and 4th and still lose.
Even with that commanding Democratic lead, the Trump performance from 2016 in the 1st and 4th would be enough to win the state for the GOP, by just under 6%. Kobach massively underperformed in those seats, underperforming Trump by 26% in the 4th and 31% in the 1st, results that Roger Marshall would be unlikely to repeat. However, it wouldn’t take that level of underperformance for the GOP to lose Kansas – just underperform 2016 Trump by just under 14% in each district, and you’re over the line – with the results that we have sketched out in the dual Eastern Kansas Congressional Districts.
Obviously, this is a set of assumptions that may not come true – Barbara Bollier may not be able to get Kelly-level results in the 3rd and 2nd, and maybe the west is more resilient with Trump on the ballot this year. But Wednesday saw two high quality, live caller national polls show double digit Joe Biden leads, and in an environment where Biden is winning whites by 6% (as Quinnipiac shows), the Senate GOP should be worried about this. If they get stuck with Kobach, it seems clear that the GOP are in heaps of trouble. Even if they avoid that fate, however, it seems possible that this Senate race could cause them troubles because of the national headwinds. Those could change between now and November, and we could all be laughing about the moment Quinnipiac was this bullish on the former Vice-President. But as of today, there’s a (narrow, but present) path to Democratic Senate victory in Kansas without Kris Kobach on the ballot, and that should send a shiver down every Republican spine.
Evan Scrimshaw (@EScrimshaw) is Managing Editor and Head Of Content at LeanTossup.ca and a contributor to Decision Desk HQ.