WASHINGTON — Sen. Jerry Moran warned Thursday a primary challenge from Rep. Mike Pompeo would invite Democrats to enter the race and hamper his ability to help elect Republicans elsewhere.
The GOP senator said a primary challenge would draw national resources to his defense that could instead go to defeating Democrats in other parts of the country. The consequences of a challenge extend beyond the Senate seat itself, he said.
The comments, made in an interview with The Topeka Capital-Journal, serve as a caution to Pompeo, who represents Wichita and south-central Kansas and is openly considering running against Moran.
“From a Kansas perspective, if there is a primary race for the Republican nomination, it will encourage Democrats to seek a Democrat nominee in the November election. So the circumstance exists with a primary occurring that Democrats get interested in Kansas, and I’ve already heard of that here in DC,” Moran said.
Moran indicated fellow Republican senators would rally to his defense. Sen. Pat Roberts gave credence to that notion, saying in an interview Thursday he backs Moran.
“It’s no secret that I’ve endorsed him. Basically, that’s the situation,” Roberts said. “In visiting with Mike Pompeo, I’ve endorsed him, too. I’ve endorsed him for his Congressional seat. We’ll see what happens. I think that will be probably be settled within weeks.”
The National Republican Senatorial Committee — the campaign operation of Senate Republicans — would send resources into Kansas, Moran said. Moran served as chairman of the organization in the lead-up to the 2014 election, helping the GOP gain control of the Senate.
Moran’s comments mirror statements made earlier this month by NRSC chairman Roger Wicker, a Mississippi senator. Wicker said the organization would send aid to Moran.
“So a primary in Kansas — there’s more to it than just a race between two or three Republicans for the United States Senate for the Republican nomination,” Moran said. “It has consequences to Republican candidates across Kansas and it has consequences to Republican candidates, particularly in the United States Senate, across the country.”
Moran said resources that would go to defending him could instead go toward Republican candidates elsewhere — with the implication being Pompeo could harm the chances of GOP candidates elsewhere if he runs.
Pompeo’s campaign operation rejected Moran’s contention.
“While we all want a Republican Senate, Kansans can also have a conservative Senator who represents our values,” Pompeo spokesman T.W. Arrighi said.
“One who won’t waiver on ensuring that the next Supreme Court Justice is a strong constitutionalist like Justice Scalia, who will stand up to Islamic terrorists, make sure that hardened criminals aren’t released back into our neighborhoods, and who has experience creating jobs here in Kansas.”
Two Democrats are already vying for the chance to face the Republican Senate nominee. Patrick Wiesner of Lawrence and Monique Singh of Kansas City are both running.
Although Moran indicated a primary would encourage Democrats, Kansas Democratic Party executive director Kerry Gooch indicated the course for Democrats would not change.
“Kansas Democrats already have two candidates filed for the U.S. Senate and a candidate running for 4th Congressional District,” Gooch said. “The potential of a Republican primary race for the US Senate would not change the Kansas Democratic party’s strategy in 2016.”
Moran said he always prepares to face an opponent. The Senate seat does not belong to Moran, the senator said — it is “not the Moran seat.”
But Moran made clear he believes a primary battle would be a negative, not only for national candidates but also for races in Kansas as well.
“A primary race in Kansas has consequences in the broader political sense,” Moran said. “And that is my ability to help other candidates in Kansas is diminished if I’m involved in my own race, and in the time I’ve been a United States senator we’ve really worked to develop relationships with legislators and state office holders as well as the state Republican Party to help the overall cause.
“So if I’m engaged in a re-election battle in a primary that means less emphasis on helping others.”
Pompeo has made a series of comments directed at Moran during the past few weeks that have raised the prospect of a primary challenge. The representative said Wednesday he had not made up his mind about a run and has declined to divulge the timing of when he will make a decision, telling reporters and others only that he will decide “soon.”
Kansas Treasurer Ron Estes also announced this week he has formed an exploratory committee to aid in potentially running for Pompeo’s seat if Pompeo challenges Moran. The move has only fueled more speculation that a run by Pompeo is imminent.
Pompeo’s criticism of Moran has included his stance on the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court; Moran initially said he favored holding hearings but opposed Garland, before saying he opposes hearings on the nominee. Pompeo has also charged Moran of being late to sign onto legislation to abolish the IRS; Moran signed onto so-called fair tax legislation in 2005, which his campaign has pointed to in response to Pompeo.