Mike Pompeo fuels buzz about a possible Senate bid in Kansas
WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says he’s laser-focused on his job as President Trump’s top diplomat, and he’s quick to dismiss “all the chatter” about a possible bid for U.S. Senate.
“I think the only one not talking about my Kansas Senate run is me,” Pompeo told CNBC in an Aug. 20 interview.
But Pompeo will fuel that chatter himself on Friday when he lands in Kansas – his adopted home state – to deliver a high-profile speech at Kansas State University. And his denials notwithstanding, Pompeo has talked to GOP allies about the possibility of leaving the Trump administration for the campaign trail.
“I’ve had conversations with Secretary Pompeo,” Sen. Jerry Moran, another Kansas Republican, told local reporters earlier this week. “… They’ve been weeks ago now and I don’t know what his current thinking is, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he entered that race.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has publicly and privately pressed Pompeo to run. Pompeo served in the House for six years before leaving Congress to become Trump’s CIA director and then his secretary of state.
“The Kansas race is open, and I’m not sure the president agrees with me, but I’d like to see the secretary of state run for the Senate in Kansas,” McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters in July.
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McConnell and others fear that if Pompeo doesn’t run, the GOP could risk losing control of that seat despite Kansas’ conservative tilt. In the 2018 midterm elections, Democrat Laura Kelly won the Kansas governor’s race, defeating Republican Kris Kobach, a polarizing immigration hardliner who ran a lackluster campaign.
Kobach is now running for the open Senate seat; Republican strategists worry that without a more formidable contender, Kobach will win the primary but lose the general election. Several lesser-known GOP contenders are considering a bid or have already announced.
“I think Mike wants to do it,” said a Republican campaign consultant who works in Kansas politics and asked to speak on the condition of anonymity to be more candid. “I think he’s been very intrigued by the speculation, he’s encouraged it, he’s deputized his team to stoke the discussion.”
Publicly, Pompeo has denied interest in the race, although he has left himself some wiggle room.
“I’m very focused on this job,” he told CNBC last month. “I’m going to be the secretary of State as long as President Trump continues to want me to be his secretary of State.”
Even as he engages in diplomacy around the world, Pompeo has made sure to cultivate his ties to Kansas. He traveled to Kansas in March for a global entrepreneurship summit. And last week, after a speech to the American Legion in Indiana, he met privately with Kansas veterans.
He talks about himself as a “Kansan,” even though he was born and raised in California, and he regularly mentions that he ran a business in the state before running for Congress.
The filing deadline for the Senate race is not until June, giving Pompeo ample time to contemplate a bid. He still has a congressional fundraising account, with nearly $1 million in the bank, according to the most recent federal campaign finance report.