Steve Rose

Who will become Kansas’ next senator when Pat Roberts retires? Here’s a bold prediction

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Before I make a brazen, two-years-early call naming the next U.S. senator from Kansas who will succeed Pat Roberts when he retires in 2020, I need to bolster my credibility with a quick review of my past political predictions. Of course, I only tend to remember those I got right.

I predicted back in 2010 before Kevin Yoder was well known that he would emerge as the Republican contender in the Kansas 3rd District and would become the next congressman. He did announce his candidacy; he beat eight other Republicans in the primary; and he was elected to Congress.

In 2014, when it was widely believed that unpopular Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback would lose his re-election bid for governor to Democrat Paul Davis, and that independent Greg Orman would beat Pat Roberts for U.S. Senate, I correctly predicted Brownback would narrowly win and that Roberts would win surprisingly easily. That is precisely what happened.

I wrote very early that Kris Kobach would be the Republican nominee for Kansas governor in 2018 and predicted in April of 2018 that he would beat Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer in the August primary. In that same column, I wrote that Laura Kelly — not exactly a household name — would become the Democratic nominee for Kansas governor and that she would prevail over Kobach to become the next Kansas governor.

Although I did not predict that Sharice Davids would be the Democratic nominee for Congress in Kansas’ 3rd District, once she won the nomination, I explained why Yoder should be defeated with the help of anti-Donald Trump fellow Republicans who switched to Davids, which did happen.

Now, in January 2019, well before the list of Republican and Democratic candidates for the 2020 U.S. Senate campaign is set, and nearly two years before the general election, I am willing to go way out on a limb and predict with virtual certainty that Republican state Sen. Susan Wagle from Wichita, who has all but announced her candidacy, will succeed Roberts to become the next U.S. senator from Kansas.

That doesn’t please me. I have often disagreed with her hardline conservative positions. But victory is Wagle’s to lose. (I should offer the caveat, though, that all bets are off if Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a former congressman from Kansas, is anointed early by Roberts and other national Republican leaders.)

Wagle meets every criterion to win. First, of course, Wagle is a Republican. While Kansas regularly elects Democrats to become governor, the state since 1861 has elected only three Democrats to the U.S. Senate. Since the last Democratic senator was defeated in 1939, there have been zero Democrats elected to that position. That is the longest such streak for either party in the nation. That makes this part of my prediction easy.

Wagle is already a proven leader. As president of the Kansas Senate since 2013 and a member of the state Legislature since 1990, the 65-year-old political veteran has amassed a sizable following and would start with a large base of support.

Wagle is a woman. And if you don’t think gender plays a huge role in today’s politics, you have been sound asleep. She probably will be the only female Republican candidate. If there are any others, they could not possibly be as prominent.

Hailing from Wichita, which sits in the second-most populous county in Kansas — Sedgwick County — is a clear advantage in what will be a crowded Republican primary with candidates from scattered rural communities.

Wagle could clearly pass the ideology test as a bona fide, hard-core conservative in an era when conservatives dominate the U.S. Senate. If Wagle’s voting record in the Kansas Senate is any guide, she would vote much like Roberts has in Washington. Roberts votes with President Donald Trump 96.4 percent of the time.

In Kansas, the Trump agenda on national issues is still golden, even though Kansans elected a Democratic governor to lead on state issues. That’s a key reason why, unfortunately, Susan Wagle — considering all her enumerated assets — would be a perfect fit for the job.