WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo came close to shutting the door Wednesday on a possible U.S. Senate race, but left it open a crack.
Pompeo, a former Kansas Republican Congressman, did not explicitly rule out a run, but said his “singular focus” was on his current post and that he plans to serve as long as President Donald Trump wants.
His remarks were his first public comments on the GOP recruitment effort to get him to run for Senate in 2020.
“I have a very full plate as secretary of state and I intend to keep doing this so long as President Trump will commit to it,” Pompeo told Fox News during an interview.
Pompeo also declined to endorse former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach when asked directly by FOX News Channel anchor Martha MacCallum. Kobach has said he is considering a run.
“I’m so far out of politics I think it might be a federal violation if I answered that question,” Pompeo said.
Kobach said Wednesday evening that Pompeo running or not running would not significantly affect his own decision about a race.
“I wasn’t expecting him to enter the race in the first place just because he’s been such a successful secretary of state it would be surprising for him to step out of that role and enter the U.S. Senate race,” he said.
Kobach said he doesn’t have a timeline for a decision but that it will come in the months ahead. He declined to talk about the factors playing into his decision.
GOP efforts to recruit Pompeo as a potential candidate began earlier this month, soon after Sen. Pat Roberts announce he would not seek re-election in 2020.
Pompeo said he had spoken with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about a run once, and that McConnell asked him to “think about it.”
Pompeo’s resume as a U.S. congressman, CIA director and Secretary of State would make him a formidable Senate candidate. Many political strategists in Kansas say he could clear the field of other Republican candidates.
But a run by Pompeo would cost President Donald Trump one of his closest advisers. In 2017, Trump plucked Pompeo from his seat in the U.S. House to lead the CIA and then asked him to lead the State Department after the departure of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
In Washington circles, Pompeo is widely thought to have Trump’s ear. He appears to have a far better working relationship with Trump than Tillerson did.
But in Kansas, where Republicans are still reeling from their loss of the state’s governorship to Democrat Laura Kelly in November, the GOP is eager avoid a protracted, crowded primary fight.
They fear another crowded primary like the one in which firebrand Secretary of State Kris Kobach faced off against then-Gov. Jeff Colyer for the Republican nomination. That bitterly fought battle last year nearly ended in a recount.
While Kobach prevailed, he was unable to muster the broad support needed to win statewide. Kelly beat him by 4 percentage points.
Kobach has said he is considering a run, in addition to Colyer. Kansas Treasurer Jake LaTurner already has declared he will run. Other potential candidates include Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, state Attorney General Derek Schmidt, Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, and American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp.
Mark Kahrs, the Kansas Republican national committeeman, said Pompeo would be a phenomenal candidate and the presumptive nominee for Senate if he got into the race. But with Pompeo committed his current cabinet post, the party needs other candidates to move forward with their plans, he said.
“Secretary Pompeo has a very important role leading our diplomatic efforts abroad... and it appears he feels that’s more important (than the Senate race) and I tend to agree with him at this point,” Kahrs said.
“I don’t think other candidates that are looking at this seat are going to wait for him. They’re going to move forward with their decisions... We would like to know who the candidates running are sooner rather than later,” Kahrs said.