(CNN)Republican leaders on Capitol Hill are fearful that the conservative hardliner Kris Kobach could cost them a crucial Senate seat in Kansas and potentially their narrow majority — and are eager to find a way to defeat him in a hotly contested primary.
But Kobach is getting face time with President Donald Trump and consulting with Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, over an immigration plan that the White House is developing. And no one knows how Trump will insert himself into the GOP primary, and whether Senate Republican leaders will succeed in getting him to endorse a candidate they argue has a better chance of winning in November.
In late January, Kobach dropped by the White House and met with Kushner — and also had a private meeting with Trump and a senior White House aide where they discussed the Senate race. The President was “encouraging” at the January 27 meeting, according to a Kobach spokesperson, even though the Kansas conservative did not ask for an endorsement.
“It’s likely that the Senate candidate who will do the best is the one who can best articulate Trump’s position and is most associated with Trump in his positions,” Kobach, an immigration firebrand and voter-fraud crusader, told CNN. “And the person who best fits that bill would be me.”
Kobach’s candidacy has unnerved GOP leaders, who worry that his sharply conservative positions, particularly on immigration, are bound to turn off middle-of-the-road Republicans, as they did when he lost the 2018 gubernatorial race to Democrat Laura Kelly. Senior GOP officials tell CNN that their two biggest problems currently in holding their Senate majority are in Georgia, where a messy battle between two Republicans could benefit the Democrats there, and in the increasingly complicated Kansas Senate race.
Indiana Sen. Todd Young, the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told CNN that GOP voters in Kansas are looking for someone who is “a good fit for the state” and “can actually win a general election.”
Asked if he thinks Kobach can a general election, Young said: “All I have to answer that question is recent history — the gubernatorial race, which he lost.”
Behind the scenes, GOP leaders are eagerly looking for an alternative to Kobach. After failing to convince Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to run for the seat, they have been assessing the current field of candidates — and looking at a potential new one.
Privately, the National Republican Senatorial Committee recently met with Bob Hamilton, a father of 12 who owns a plumbing company in Overland Park, Kansas, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the session. A source familiar with Hamilton’s thinking said he is seriously weighing whether to run in the race.
“Bob Hamilton is what people are buying right now – a conservative businessman outsider,” the source said, adding that a decision could be made well before the June filing deadline for the August primary.
Yet there are concerns that the entry of Hamilton into the race will only bolster Kobach’s chances, especially in a crowded field that also includes Rep. Roger Marshall, who was first elected in 2016 after defeating an incumbent congressman, Tim Huelskamp, a favorite of the Tea Party who had drawn the ire of business and agricultural groups. Some of those wounds from that fight are still raw, GOP sources said. And at least one conservative group, the Club for Growth, is vowing to drop big bucks in a bid to stop Marshall.
Marshall, an obstetrician-gynecologist, represents the same solidly Republican, farm-focused district from which former Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole, Sen. Jerry Moran and the retiring Sen. Pat Roberts built the base of their power.
“Kris tends to be a polarizing candidate,” Roberts, whose retirement opened up the fight for his seat, told CNN. “He does get a lot of support — he has a strong base. He just ran for governor last time; I think there’s a general feeling that he could have done much better. But we’ll s