TOPEKA — Republicans are likely to stress Kansas Rep. Roger Marshall's service on the House Agriculture Committee as he runs for the Senate.
The two-term GOP congressman for western and central Kansas who sometimes calls himself "the only candidate who can sort heifers from steers" is treating his agriculture background as as a major asset in his race against Democrat nominee Barbara Bollier. They're both doctors, but she grew up in the Kansas City suburbs, while he describes himself as a "fifth-generation farm kid" after starting life on a farm outside El Dorado in south-central Kansas.
Marshall and Bollier are running for the seat held by retiring four-term GOP Sen. Pat Roberts. He has served as Senate Agriculture Committee chairman since 2015, is a former House Agriculture Committee chairman and has been a key player on farm legislation for decades. Kansas agriculture groups put a premium on the state being represented on both committees.
Kelly Arnold, a former Kansas Republican Party chairman, said Tuesday that Marshall's agriculture background is "obviously going to be pushed" during the campaign.
"This is one of the strong points that Roger Marshall has," Arnold said.
Marshall won the GOP primary comfortably over Kris Kobach, a former Kansas secretary of state and polarizing conservative known for advocating restrictive immigration policies. Marshall had endorsements from the Kansas Farm Bureau and the Kansas Livestock Association.
Farm groups' support was crucial to Marshall in 2016 when he ousted conservative tea-party Rep. Tim Huelskamp during the GOP primary. Marshall is an obstetrician and Huelskamp was a farmer and rancher, but Huelskamp had alienated agriculture groups by getting booted from the House Agriculture Committee in 2012, costing Kansas a seat for the first time in nearly a century. Huelskamp had clashed with then-House Speaker John Boehner.
Marshall immediately received a seat on the House Agriculture Committee after taking office in 2017. He said after winning the Senate primary last week that it's "vitally important" for Kansas to have a seat on the Senate committee and Bollier is "not qualified."
"She wouldn't know the difference between milo and soybeans," Marshall said.
Bollier, a retired anesthesiologist, is a state senator who represents leafy and affluent suburbs in Johnson County, the state's most populous county. Her father was an anesthesiologist and her mother, a nurse, but Bollier said in a post-primary interview that her father did own land near Chillicothe, Missouri, that he had farmed — growing soybeans — before it later became wetlands.
Bollier's latest television spot features her with former GOP Rep. Tom Moxley on his Council Grove ranch, with him wearing a cowboy hat.
"I have served in the state Legislature for 11 years and have spent every year hearing about the needs of our agriculture community and voting for them," she said. "I look forward to on that ag committee in Washington."
And Kansas Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley, of Topeka, said while Marshall's agriculture background gives him a popular message in western Kansas, he's not sure the issue plays as well in urban areas. He also said her message of bringing bipartisanship to Washington will resonate.
Political scientist Bob Beatty, of Washburn University in Topeka, said Marshall's agriculture background is positive and will helps some voters feel more comfortable with him. But he also noted half of the state's 1.85 million registered voters live in its five most populous counties.
"The farm credential in Kansas is more cultural than just pure votes," Beatty said. "It's been waning over the years, but it still has symbolic power."