‘Can’t close that gap’: Marshall’s path to US Senate victory

Posted at 5:51 PM, Nov 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-04 18:54:58-05

TOPEKA, Kans. — The race for a U.S. Senate seat in Kansas drew national attention, with speculation the state could see its first Democratic senator in nearly a century.

In the end, Republican Congressman Roger Marshall won by double digits, a "huge relief" for Republicans in the state.

"You don't want to be the chair of a party when you lose a seat that has been in Republican hands for for nearly 100 years," Kansas Republican Party Chair Mike Kuckelman said.

Marshall carried the endorsement of retiring U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, whose seat he will take.

The Cook Political Report had listed the race as "Lean Republican," but several polls suggested a small margin of victory.

A New York Times/Siena College poll showed Marshall ahead by four points, with six percent of voters undecided.

However, when the results came in, the he won by 13 percentage points.

"The margin was surprising, and that has been a nationwide story. The polls again got the margins wrong," UMKC Associate Professor of Political Science Greg Vonnahme said.

The poll was, however, just one point off on the results for Marshall's opponent, Dr. Barbara Bollier. She ended the night at 41 percent.

Bollier carried Riley, Shawnee, Douglas, Wyandotte and Johnson counties.

In Johnson County, the state senator led by seven points. She garnered fewer votes than former Vice President Joe Biden, which was a good sign for Marshall.

"That did surprise me. I was expecting that to be a wider margin," Kuckelman said.

Vonnahme says Bollier needed "more disproportionate increases in key Democratic strongholds," as well as some crossover Trump voters.

"With Marshall being able to hold on virtually all of the Trump vote, you just can't close that gap," he said.

Bollier's campaign raised more than $24 million, compared to Marshall's $6 million.

Marshall and his supporters frequently criticized Bollier for the amount of money coming from out-of-state donors for her campaign.

"I think that started to alarm people, because we need our two U.S. Senate seats to represent Kansans," Kuckelman said. When you have out of state influence like that, it makes you sit back and think who are they really going to represent."

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Bollier received $12.3 million from out-of-state donors. She also raised $3.4 million in Kansas, compared to Marshall's $2.2 million.

However, outside groups' spending also played a large role in the race.

While $15.6 million was spent in opposition to Marshall, $25 million poured in against Bollier.

"The Senate Leadership Fund was overwhelmingly the number one group spending in the race, and, overwhelmingly, the external spending was negative," Vonnahme said.

The SLF and other PACs aired ads tying Bollier to a "far left" agenda championed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Those ads were successful because they made the race about national politics, Vonnahme said.

"I think this is the most competitive Senate election that we're likely to see in Kansas for at least the foreseeable future," he said.

It was the most expensive race in state history.

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