Government & Politics

Is Mike Pompeo actively exploring a U.S. Senate race?

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to meet with Sen. Pat Roberts in the near future amid a heavy recruitment effort by powerful Washington Republicans for Pompeo to run for Roberts’ seat.

A Senate run by Pompeo would reshuffle the race to replace Roberts in Kansas. It would also reshuffle President Donald Trump’s Cabinet — again — and have international implications.

Trump would need to appoint his third secretary of state to replace Pompeo, one of president’s most trusted and loyal lieutenants who has managed to avoid the scandals and upheaval that have pushed out other cabinet secretaries.

Pompeo has taken a hard line on Iran as secretary of state, but he has come under criticism for not doing more to hold Saudi Arabia accountable after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Pompeo, 55, sent Roberts a congratulatory note after the Kansas Republican announced his plans to not seek re-election in 2020 after a four-decade career in Congress.

Roberts’ office does not have any knowledge of whether Pompeo will seek the seat, but the senator joked Thursday about playing phone tag with Pompeo and other potential candidates.

“There’s about 15 so far. I’m counting. But the one who called me and said he will call me back — it was some guy they call the secretary of state,” Roberts said.

The two served alongside each other for six years when Pompeo represented Kansas’ 4th congressional district, which covers the Wichita area.

Pompeo sought the advice and support of Roberts, a former Senate Intelligence chair, when he was vying for a job in President Donald Trump’s administration after the 2016 election.

He first served as Trump’s CIA director before being named the nation’s top diplomat last year.

Pompeo has roughly $1 million in his dormant federal campaign account. He won his last campaign for Congress in 2016 by 31 percentage points and would widely be considered the frontrunner if he runs.

“It is near unanimous amongst Republicans at every level that Sec. Pompeo would be the best candidate should he choose to run,” a Washington Republican source told McClatchy.

The Washington Post reported late Thursday that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has personally asked Pompeo to consider a run. Pompeo flirted with mounting a primary against Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, in 2016.

A source close to Pompeo confirmed to McClatchy Friday morning that McConnell spoke with the secretary of state and added that other senators have spoken to Pompeo to encourage him to run.

It would be an unusual move for Pompeo to give up his current job, which puts him fourth in line to the presidency and gives him an international stage, to become Kansas’ junior U.S. senator.

“Does he want to be a senator?” asked Mark Kahrs, Kansas Republican national committeeman. “Does he want to leave, candidly, the most important unelected post in the country, secretary of state? I think he has an opportunity to serve as secretary of state for seven years.”

A decision to mount a campaign could be interpreted as a sign that Pompeo wants to escape a dysfunctional administration.

Robert Palladino, a spokesman for the State Department, said in an email that Pompeo “is focused on serving the President and keeping Americans safe as the Secretary of State.”

Trump and Pompeo met Friday with Korth Korean envoy Kim Yong Chol as the U.S. looks to renew negotiations to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons.

Pompeo’s name was first floated as a possible candidate the day Roberts announced his retirement.

“He’d clear the field of any thinking candidate,” said Alan Cobb, the president of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and a former lobbyist for Wichita-based Koch Industries.

Cobb is among the people weighing a run, but he would defer to Pompeo.

“I have reason to believe he’s taking it very seriously… Mike Pompeo would have broad base support both in the primary election and the general election,” Cobb said.

Kahrs agreed that Pompeo’s candidacy would clear the crowded GOP field.

But until Pompeo makes a decison, other candidates will move forward with their campaigns. Kahrs said Pompeo “would need to make that announcement sometime this year,” so the party can avoid a prolonged primary.

“If Pompeo doesn’t get in, there’s no frontrunner,” Kahrs said.

Kansas Treasurer Jake LaTurner has already launched a campaign. Other prominent Republicans, including Attorney General Derek Schmidt, Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle and former Gov. Jeff Colyer, are all taking steps toward running.

“Mike Pompeo gets to decide what Mike Pompeo wants to do,” LaTurner said Friday.

Pompeo’s name overshadows the other potential candidates as Kansas Republicans wait for him to make a decision.

The filing deadline for the race isn’t until June of 2020. Kelly Arnold, the Kansas Republican chair, said Pompeo could wait until then to declare his candidacy and expect to be the next senator in a state that has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1932.

“His cachet, his name ID is so big, why would you run against that?” said John Whitmer, a former Republican state legislator who now hosts a conservative talk radio show in Wichita. “How do you raise money against a sitting Secretary of State?”

Pompeo’s top supporter during his congressional career was Koch Industries, a company with large sway over Kansas Republican politics. His campaign committee received more than $375,000 from people and political action committees associated with the Wichita company during the span of his congressional career, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets site.

The Wichita Eagle’s Dion Lefler and Jonathan Shorman contributed to this report.
Lindsay Wise is an investigative reporter for McClatchy’s Washington Bureau. Previously, Lindsay worked for six years as the Washington correspondent for McClatchy’s Kansas City Star. Before joining McClatchy in 2012, she worked as a reporter at the Houston Chronicle, where she specialized in coverage of veterans and military issues as well as the city’s Arab and Muslim communities.
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Bryan Lowry covers Kansas and Missouri politics as Washington correspondent for The Kansas City Star. He previously served as Kansas statehouse correspondent for The Wichita Eagle and as The Star’s lead political reporter. Lowry contributed to The Star’s investigation into government secrecy that was a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize.
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