Pompeo says he’ll stay at State, forgoing Kansas Senate run

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks about Iran, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020, at the State Department in Washington. (Photo: AP)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that he’ll remain in his post as the country’s top diplomat, forgoing a run for Senate from Kansas that many Republicans have seen as the party’s best hope of retaining what should be a guaranteed GOP seat from the deep red state.

Pompeo’s decision, assuming he stands by it, will also complicate GOP efforts to defend their 53-47 Senate majority in November’s elections.

His remarks at a State Department news conference came a day after he told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that he’s not going to leave his job to run for office, two people close to McConnell told The Associated Press.

Pompeo’s decision, disclosed Monday, came days after a US airstrike authorized by President Donald Trump killed Qassem Soleiman, Iran’s most powerful general and leader of its elite Quds Force. Iran has vowed revenge on the US, and the crisis makes this an awkward time for Pompeo to leave his post and seek elective office.

A reporter asked Pompeo Tuesday whether his decision to not run for Senate was the result of the tensions with Iran.

“I said the same thing yesterday that I’ve said for months. No,” Pompeo said. “No real news there. I’ve said I’m going to stay serving as secretary of state so long as President Trump shall have me.”

The two people who described Pompeo’s conversation with McConnell spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a private talk. Others familiar with the matter said Pompeo met with McConnell, R-Ky., on Capitol Hill.

A former congressman from Kansas, Pompeo has traveled repeatedly to the state in recent months, and many Washington Republicans had expressed a belief that he would be a candidate.

If he ran, he was considered all but certain to prevail in the Aug. 4 GOP primary and the November general election. Candidates have until June 1 to file for the Kansas Senate race, leaving a door open for Pompeo to reconsider.

Republicans worry that without him, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a polarizing conservative with hard-right immigration views, could win the GOP nomination. GOP officials say that if Kobach is the party’s choice he would alienate moderate voters and could lose the general election, repeating the defeat he suffered in 2018, when he was the Republican candidate for governor. Trump carried the state by nearly 21 percentage points in 2016.

Republicans consider retaining the Kansas seat important for keeping their hold on the Senat. GOP senators in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, and North Carolina face potentially tight reelection contests, while Doug Jones of Alabama is the Democrat in the greatest danger of defeat.

The Kansas seat is being vacated by GOP Sen. Pat Roberts, 83, who’s served in the Senate since 1997 and, before that, in the House since 1981.

Pompeo, 56, finished first in his class at West Point, served in the Army and earned a law degree from Harvard. He was in his fourth House term when he resigned in 2017 to become Trump’s first CIA director. In 2018, he replaced the fired Rex Tillerson atop the State Department. He has evolved into one of Trump’s most trusted advisers.

McConnell and other top Republicans have been eager for Pompeo to run for the Senate. Just last month, Trump called Pompeo “a tremendous guy doing a tremendous job” and said if he thought the Kansas seat was in peril for Republicans, “I would sit down and talk to Mike.”

To many, that suggested Trump had given Pompeo a green light to run. Feeding the buzz, Pompeo kept his old House campaign committee alive, and it had nearly $1 million at the end of June that could be used for a Senate race. That’s a significant amount to start within an inexpensive-media state like Kansas.

But one person said Pompeo had never signaled to his State Department colleagues that he wanted to run and told several that he didn’t want to.

Kobach’s opponents in the GOP primary include Rep. Roger Marshall, state Senate President Susan Wagle and Dave Lindstrom, a businessman and former Kansas City Chiefs football player. The leading Democratic candidate is state Sen. Barbara Bollier, a retired Kansas City-area anesthesiologist who switched from the GOP at the end of 2018.

Pompeo’s revelation to McConnell was first reported by The New York Times.