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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Rival Kansas Senate candidates Kris Kobach and Rep. Roger Marshall have talked to President Donald Trump, with Marshall looking to boost his chances of defeating Trump's earliest prominent supporter in the state.
Marshall's campaign confirmed that the western Kansas congressman met Monday with Trump in the Oval Office. His campaign said in a statement Tuesday only that, “It was a positive meeting.”
Kobach told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Trump called him Monday from Air Force One to talk to him about the Senate race and immigration issues. Kobach has advised Trump regularly about immigration issues since Trump's campaign for president in 2016.
A White House official also said both conversations occurred, though the official said Kobach reached Trump by phone. Marshall also met with the president’s political team last week.
Kobach said he doesn't read too much into Marshall's meeting with the president.
Marshall votes almost all the time with Trump in Congress and has been a vocal critic of the impeachment proceedings against Trump. However, Kobach publicly endorsed Trump ahead of Kansas' 2016 presidential caucuses — well before any other top-level state officials — and served as vice-chairman of a short-lived presidential commission on election fraud.
“I speak with the president more frequently than I speak with anyone else in the White House,” Kobach said. “I assume that Marshall is hoping that the president endorses him or at least doesn't endorse me, but I don't read anything beyond that.”
Trump endorsed Kobach the day before the 2018 GOP primary in the Kansas governor's race, and Kobach narrowly defeated then-Gov. Jeff Colyer. But Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state, has built a national profile by advocating stricter immigration policies, and he alienates many moderate voters. He lost the governor's race to Democrat Laura Kelly.
Trump has told advisers that he likes Kobach but is aware of his liabilities, according to an administration official not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations. Trump and Kobach are aligned on hard-line immigration policies. The president had not yet determined how involved he will be in the primary race.
Kobach and Marshall are running for the seat held by four-term Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, who is not seeking re-election. Some Republicans fear that if Kobach is nominated, Democrats will have an opening to win their first Senate race in Kansas since 1932, putting a normally safe seat in play.
The leading Democratic candidate, state Sen. Barbara Bollier, a retired Kansas City-area anesthesiologist, has said she raised more than $1 million by the end of last year, a sizeable sum in a low-cost media state like Kansas.
Other GOP candidates in the race include Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle and Dave Lindstrom, a Kansas City-area businessman and former Kansas City Chiefs football player.
Kobach's and Marshall's conversations with Trump occurred the same day Kansas political icon and former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, the 1996 GOP nominee for president, endorsed Marshall. Dole praised Marshall as “dedicated to preserving common-sense Kansas values.”
Two GOP operatives said they believed Dole was acting as a free agent and said his endorsement was not a signal that national Republicans were preparing to line up behind Marshall. They said party leaders were still evaluating the GOP’s primary field, including watching fundraising. The people spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
One GOP strategist said Republicans in Washington are still deciding which candidate to back, examining such things as their fundraising and the excitement they generate among voters. The operative, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the thinking of leading Republicans, said Kobach’s loss in the governor's race and current polling is “disqualifying” for his candidacy.
The operative said they’re open to Marshall or other candidates already in or not in the race. The operative also said that while some Republicans still nurture “hopes and dreams” that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a former Kansas congressman, will reconsider not running, his decision seems pretty definitive.
Marshall called Dole “a mentor, adviser, sounding board and a constant source of encouragement.”
Kobach touted endorsements from two gun-rights group, the National Association for Gun Rights over the weekend and Gun Owners of America on Tuesday. Kobach said endorsements from individuals are “ambiguous” in their reasoning, while an endorsement from an advocacy group “sends a much clearer message” to voters.
Fram reported from Washington. Associated Press reporter Jonathan Lemire also contributed from New York.
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