MANHATTAN — Republican U.S. Senate candidates assembled in an empty ballroom to debate farm issues repeatedly diverged Saturday to attack the electability of GOP rivals and to portray presumptive Democratic nominee Barbara Bollier as a clear and present danger.
The underlying competition among the five candidates at the livestreamed debate — COVID-19 meant there was no live audience — was supremacy in their praise for President Donald Trump. And, when compelled by the moderator, they talked about agriculture.
U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, who serves the 1st District and has been endorsed by the Kansas Farm Bureau, said August primary voters would be foolish to nominate former Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who lost the 2018 election for governor to Democrat Laura Kelly.
"We cannot afford to send a failed candidate back this fall who will lose to Barbara Bollier and hand the Senate majority over to Chuck Schumer," Marshall said. "Instead, we need to send a tried and trusted friend of President Trump."
Kobach said Kansans would be mistaken to select a replacement for retiring U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts who lacked fire in the belly to take on radical Democrats.
The political landscape in Washington, D.C., requires Kansas senators equipped for partisan combat, Kobach said.
"Do you want a go-along-to-get-along kind of senator, a gutless wonder who never takes a stand? Or, do you want someone who poses a threat?" Kobach said.
Newcomer Bob Hamilton, a wealthy plumber from Bucyrus in Miami County, said GOP voters didn’t have to settle for conservative-who-can’t-win Kobach or moderate-who-thinks-he-can-win Marshall.
"Do you want to send a professional politician to Washington or do you want to send a plumber to help drain the swamp?" he said.
Former Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Dave Lindstrom, of Johnson County, and Senate President Susan Wagle, of Wichita, filled out the roster of candidates invited to the debate, sponsored by the Kansas Republican Party.
Both were recently pressured by the Kansas GOP leadership to drop out of the race. Lindstrom was the only person to bring that up, and denounced sponsors of the debate for unprofessionally attempting to dictate to Republicans which GOP candidate should be nominated.
"I’m running for the United States Senate because I’m tired of the Kansas insanity," Lindstrom said. "I’ve had enough of career politicians who are divisive, controversial, have a record of mismanagement and losing to Democrats in big elections. I’ve had enough of shortsighted, self-serving politicians. Have you had enough?"
Wagle, who serves as president of the Kansas Senate, said she had the proven tenacity to take Bollier down a notch. Bollier, who represents a Senate district from Johnson County, defected from the Republican Party in 2018 and has no meaningful opposition in the Democratic primary.
"It’s very, very important that we send a leader to the U.S. Senate who is articulate, who is persuasive, who other people respect," Wagle said. "I’m the one who’s already debated Barbara Bollier. I’ll take her on in the general and I’ll win. I win on the Senate floor. I’ve beat her numerous times. I’m the one candidate, the conservative voice that can beat that liberal voice in the U.S. Senate."
During the debate, Kobach accused Marshall of lobbying in 2018 for a spot on the House’s budget committee that, if secured, would mean that he would abandon a seat on the House agriculture committee.
Marshall said in response that he would have been on both House committees and would have continued to work on behalf of Kansas farmers.
"Fake news and another lie by Kris Kobach," Marshall said.
Each of the candidates said they would pursue a position on the Senate agriculture committee if elected, but Hamilton was the only person to disclose uncertainty about how to land that assignment. Roberts, who is retiring after 40 years in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, is chairman of the Senate’s agriculture committee.