Just months ago, Kansas’ four GOP members of the U.S. House were all seen as part of the next generation of Republicans gunnin’ to be governor or U.S. senator one day.
Republicans fretted that their deep bench of candidates could go up in flames if they all jumped into a rough-and-tumble primary for governor.
But in a flash, all that has changed — and that begins to explain why Congressman Kevin Yoder of Overland Park has emerged as the candidate to watch as next year’s race takes shape.
Of the four oh-so-eager House members, Yoder is the last person standing, and absolutely no one saw this development coming. Let’s run it down:
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Tim Huelskamp, the bomb-throwing western Kansas congressman, was upset in the August primary by political newcomer Roger Marshall. Then in November, Donald Trump tapped Wichita Congressman Mike Pompeo to be CIA director.
What might be the biggest surprise came in January, when Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins, seen as the early favorite for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, abruptly bowed out of politics. Some insiders said she had lost the fire to seek higher office.
“I plan to retire and explore opportunities to return to the private sector,” Jenkins said at the time.
As of a year ago, the odds of those three developments transpiring so close together were at least 52,000: 1. Yoder is now the last one still in the game. That gives more traditional Republicans a potential candidate in a field that could wind up including Kris Kobach, the controversial secretary of state who’s interested in higher office.
With his hard-line immigration stance, Kobach would be a force in a Republican primary. Traditional GOPers tell me they’re desperate for an alternative.
A Yoder-Kobach face-off in August 2018 would dominate headlines. Given the state’s current political climate, Yoder could win it.
There are other possibilities out there. Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer could become governor this year should Gov. Sam Brownback take an appointment in Trump land (and rumors that he will aren’t going away). But Colyer is closely aligned with the most unpopular governor in America, and that would hurt.
There’s Derek Schmidt, the two-term attorney general. But he’s thought to be a possible candidate to succeed Jenkins in Congress or even seek a third term as attorney general. There’s also Ron Estes, the state treasurer, but he’s the GOP nominee to take Pompeo’s place in Congress.
Follow all this? The bottom line is simple: Yoder now rates as very hot political property. Instead of slowly ascending the leadership ladder in Congress, he could take a leap forward and be the next governor.
Yoder has a good pedigree. A former state House member, he won praise as chair of the House Appropriations Committee in Topeka. He understands the multibillion-dollar state budget, and that’s important.
Asked this week if he wants the top job, Yoder said through a spokesman that he might: “Like many of my neighbors, I’ve had concerns about the challenges facing our state. And with two little girls, I’m especially focused on strengthening the quality of education in Kansas.”
Other Republicans confirm his interest. Why wouldn’t he be intrigued? Years ago in Kansas, a Republican named William Avery won the governorship after five terms in Congress. He once said that in the House, you’re one of 435.
But as governor, you’re it.