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Why Republicans are going after Kansas' Kobach with a vengeance

It's striking that Kobach's announcement yesterday in Kansas made Democrats quite a bit happier than his fellow Republicans.
Donald Trump, Kris Kobach
President-elect Donald Trump pauses pose for photographs as he greets Kansas Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster...

When Sen. Pat Roberts (R) announced on Jan. 4 that he wouldn't seek a fourth term in Kansas in 2020, the conventional wisdom was that Republicans would have little trouble holding onto the seat. After all, Kansans haven't elected a Democratic U.S. senator since 1932.

But a slight chill ran through GOP spines a few hours after Roberts declared his intentions. Outgoing Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), fresh off his failed gubernatorial campaign, told the New York Times that he was "considering" running for the seat.

Yesterday, he made it official, though as the Wichita Eagle reported, the right-wing Kansan seemed to stumble into the contest, misspelling his own name in his campaign paperwork.

A campaign committee named Kobach for Senate filed with the Federal Election Commission Monday morning, hours before Kobach was scheduled to give a speech in Leavenworth, where he is expected to kick off his campaign.But the FEC filing initially spelled the former Kansas secretary of state's name as "Chris," an inauspicious start to his campaign to replace retiring Republican Sen. Pat Roberts. The spelling was corrected about an hour later.

As amusing as this was, more important was the reaction from GOP officials to Kobach's candidacy. To put it mildly, they appeared to be terrified of the idea of Kobach winning the party's Senate nomination.

"Just last year Kris Kobach ran and lost to a Democrat. Now, he wants to do the same and simultaneously put President Trump's presidency and Senate majority at risk," the National Republican Senatorial Committee's Joanna Rodriguez said. "We know Kansans won't let that happen, and we look forward to watching the Republican candidate they do choose win next fall."

Bryan Lowry, the Washington correspondent for the Kansas City Star, added on Twitter, "I'm a little overstuffed with quotes from Republicans criticizing Kobach as a candidate, but Sam Brownback's former chief of staff David Kensinger sent me this one about his fellow Kansas Republican: 'L-O-S-E-R.'"

At face value, the problem isn't Kobach's radicalism, per se. The former Kansas secretary of state has a cringe-worthy record on a variety of issues -- he's a national pioneer of sorts on reactionary immigration policies and voter suppression -- but that alone would hardly make him persona non grata in contemporary GOP circles.

Rather, the problem is that Kobach's radicalism has proven to be excessive even for Kansas. In last year's gubernatorial race in the Sunflower State, Gov. Laura Kelly (D) beat Kobach without a lot of trouble -- even in a ruby-red state -- and that was with independent Greg Orman on the ballot splitting the center.

With this recent history in mind, it's easy to imagine Kobach winning a Republican primary ahead of next year's Senate race and creating a competitive contest in a state that, on paper, shouldn't have one. For GOP officials, it would look like Alabama's 2017 Senate special election all over again.

To be sure, Democrats shouldn't get their hopes up, at least not yet. Kobach will face a crowded primary and may yet lose. For that matter, it's not altogether clear whom Dems will nominate and whether he/she will be a strong contender (though the DSCC is reportedly taking the race seriously).

Those caveats notwithstanding, it's striking that Kobach's announcement yesterday made Democrats quite a bit happier than his fellow Republicans.