Kris Kobach's ability to generate attention draws the Republican into conversations about high-level vacancies in the administration of President Donald Trump and the open 2020 campaign for a Kansas seat in the U.S. Senate.

But the clock appears to be running faster on the former law professor who made a name for himself serving as Kansas secretary of state.

"Kris Kobach is one of the most politically talented politicians that I've seen, not just in Kansas but in American politics," said Bob Beatty, a professor of political science at Washburn University. "He's been able to parlay that into national attention for going on 10 years."

Beatty said on the Capitol Insider podcast there was pressure on Kobach to do more than flirt with a Cabinet post in the Trump administration after losing the governor's race in November to Democrat Laura Kelly. It will diminish his GOP stock to come up empty again, he said.


Patrick Miller, a University of Kansas political science faculty member, said the campaign for the seat to be vacated by U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts would be influenced by Kobach's strong name recognition and evidence of bipartisan dislike for him.

"He's probably the best hope for a Democrat," said Miller, who didn't consider Kobach the state party's most viable alternative. "Kansas is a very Republican state. There is a deep wealth of Republicans here who would like to move up the political ladder."

The roster of GOP hopefuls features U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, Senate President Susan Wagle, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, State Treasurer Jake LaTurner, former Gov. Jeff Colyer, Kobach and perhaps a dozen other people. On the Democratic Party side of the ballot, Barry Grissom, a former U.S. attorney for Kansas, appears to be a contender.

Intensity of the Republican contest, even 16 months from the primary in 2020, was evident during a recent exchange between LaTurner and state Sen. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita. On Twitter, Suellentrop urged LaTurner to quit the race.

"Jake needs to be at home, helping to raise his young children, reading to them before bedtime, helping to coach their sporting activities," Suellentrop said.

LaTurner said Suellentrop made a "cowardly attempt to apply social shame against us for our parenting" and ought to share such judgmental assessments personally rather than publicly.

"Raising our four children to be God-fearing, civic-minded, good people is the most important work of our life. I read to them almost nightly. We go play ball in the back yard. We go fishing. We go to mass together every Sunday," LaTurner said.

Miller said Roberts' early retirement announcement created a larger window for potential candidates to operate.

"There's been a big rush to make this field come together into something set, coherent and sensible a lot sooner than maybe it should be," Miller said. "We are still a political eternity away from the Republican primary."

Beatty said voters could be drawn to Senate candidates off the traditional radar. U.S. Reps. Steve Watkins and Sharice Davids, who both won Kansas election to Congress in 2018, demonstrated relative unknowns could prosper, he said.

"There's a huge space here. It doesn't have to be someone who is in Kansas right now. It's a wild arena right now," Beatty said.

In Kansas, voter registration favors Republicans over Democrats. The state hasn't sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since the 1930s.

Grissom may win the nomination by default, Miller said, but the general election necessitates the Democrat cross party lines. Recently, Grissom attached himself to the idea of reforming marijuana law. It's a potential conversation starter with Republicans.

"If they want a chance to win it, a chance to even put it on the table as competitive, they need to have an issue or something that divides the electorate in a way that it doesn't come down just on party divisions," Miller said.