Kansas Republican Susan Wagle Drops Out of Senate Race After Conversations with GOP Leaders

May 29, 2020by Bryan Lowry and Jonathan Shorman, McClatchy Washington Bureau (TNS)
President of the Kansas State Senate Susan Wagle addresses a joint caucus of the House and Senate Republicans as Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, right, looks on in Topeka, Kan. (Bo Rader/Wichita Eagle/TNS)

WASHINGTON — Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle has dropped out of the race for U.S. Senate four days ahead of the filing deadline.

The Wichita Republican’s decision to forgo the race to replace retiring Sen. Pat Roberts comes hours after Kansans For Life’s PAC announced its decision to endorse Rep. Roger Marshall. It was a huge blow to Wagle’s candidacy, which was framed largely around her efforts to pass an anti-abortion amendment this legislative session.

Wagle pointed to conversations with party leaders and concerns that a divided Republican electorate could be a boost to Democrat Barbara Bollier in the general election.

“Over the last few weeks I have spoken with Party leaders, including the National Republican Senatorial Committee. I share concerns that a divisive primary will only benefit the campaign of Barbara Bollier,” Wagle said in a statement Thursday.

“I know Barbara well, and I will not be part of a primary fight that will divide our Party or hurts my colleagues in the state legislature. For these reasons I will not file to formally run for U.S. Senate.”

Wagle, the only woman to serve as president of the Kansas Senate, had bristled at a request from Kansas Republican Chair Mike Kuckelman last month to drop out before acquiescing to the pressure from party leaders this week. As recently as Saturday, she assured reporters of her plans to file for the race.

The NRSC didn’t provide specific details of Wagle’s conversations with party leaders in Washington, but it offered appreciative words after her announcement.

“Kansas Republicans are fortunate to have Susan Wagle fighting for them. Republicans need strong, intelligent, dedicated public servants at every level of government and she has a bright future ahead,” said Joanna Rodriguez, the NRSC’s spokeswoman.

Wagle’s decision to drop out ahead of the filing deadline will likely help boost Marshall, the congressman from western Kansas, who has been trying to establish himself as the main alternative to former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the party’s 2018 nominee for governor.

GOP leaders in Kansas and Washington have fretted for nearly a year that a Kobach win in the crowded primary could put the seat in play for the first time in decades and hurt down-ballot Republicans. A Democrat has not won a Senate race in Kansas since 1932.

Wagle made no reference to Marshall or Kobach in her release, but she referenced another Wichitan who has not entered in the race as being a contributing factor to her exit.

She said the months of speculation about a potential candidacy by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hindered her ability to fundraise.

As of the end of March, Wagle’s campaign had a little more than $515,000 cash on hand after the candidate loaned herself $275,000 of her own money early in the race.

Pompeo has repeatedly rebuffed efforts by national Republicans to lure him into the race and Wagle’s campaign confirmed Thursday it had no reason to believe that had changed.

Wagle also pointed to the death of her daughter, Julia Marie Scott, in March as a contributing factor for her decision.

She said that her duties as Senate president require her undivided attention, specifically her efforts to stop Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly from expanding Medicaid and to “take the necessary steps to rein in her executive overreach during the pandemic.”

Throughout the 2020 session, Wagle cast herself as a chief adversary of the Democratic governor. She spearheaded a bill to limit Kelly’s emergency powers during the pandemic, an effort that culminated in a 24-hour marathon final day of session to pass the legislation. On Tuesday, Kelly vetoed it.

She staked much of her political future on an attempt to put an anti-abortion amendment to the state constitution to a statewide vote.

After the House failed to advance the amendment in February, Wagle announced the Kansas Senate wouldn’t debate Medicaid expansion — Kelly’s signature policy proposal.

The blockade put her at odds with the Senate Majority Leader, Jim Denning, an Overland Park Republican who reached a deal on expansion with Kelly. The standoff lasted until the pandemic brought the session to an abrupt halt. Ultimately, neither expansion nor the amendment passed.

Kobach and Marshall both put out statements praising Wagle’s commitment to the anti-abortion movement during her nearly three decades in the Kansas Legislature. The two candidates are both looking to shore up support among abortion opponents.

With Wagle’s exit, the GOP field will be entirely male.

The crowded primary includes former Kansas City Chiefs player Dave Lindstrom, businessman Bob Hamilton, Kansas Board of Education member Steve Roberts and several other lower tier candidates who have filed for the race.

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©2020 McClatchy Washington Bureau

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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