Republican U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall held off state Sen. Barbara Bollier to win an open U.S. Senate seat in Kansas, The Associated Press projected Tuesday night, spoiling Democratic hopes of an upset in the deep-red state where they haven’t won a Senate contest since 1932.
Marshall, a party-line Republican who has served in Congress since 2017, avoided what would have been a disastrous defeat in the GOP’s efforts to maintain its Senate majority. He did so despite facing an onslaught of late spending from Democratic and progressive groups hoping to help Bollier, a former Republican who left the GOP two years ago, citing its hard-right turn on social issues and Kansas Republicans’ aggressive efforts to cut taxes, which hammered public education budgets in the state.
Marshall will fill the seat Sen. Pat Roberts (R) held for more than two decades. Roberts’ decision to retire at the end of this term set off a heated GOP primary race to replace him, especially after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo decided against a run. Marshall defeated former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an anti-immigration hard-liner whose campaign Democrats tried to boost in hopes it would help them turn the seat blue.
They almost pulled it off anyway, after Bollier spent primary season building a fundraising advantage over her eventual opponent and drawing national attention to the race from progressive outside groups, which poured money into the contest in October in an effort to flip the seat.
Democratic upset hopes were driven in part by President Donald Trump’s declining support in a state he won by more than 20 points four years ago. Polling averages ahead of Election Day showed Trump barely above 50% among Kansas voters, at times holding a single-digit lead over Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Bollier, meanwhile, crafted a moderate campaign platform that went heavy on some Democratic priorities ― she advocated for adding a public option to the Affordable Care Act and boosting public education funding ― while avoiding issues like abortion and gun control. Marshall, who opposes abortion rights, focused on the GOP’s confirmation of conservative judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, the repeal of Obamacare and Trump’s efforts to build a wall on the southern border.
As in other states, Democrats saw dramatic shifts in suburban support as a key to victory, especially in Johnson County, which sits just across the border from Kansas City, Missouri. But it wasn’t enough to end a Kansas cold streak that is now nearly a century long, leaving the party’s hopes of a Senate majority hanging on races in much friendlier territory.