TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) – Democrats went into Tuesday’s election with their best chance in half a century of winning a Senate seat in Kansas, as voters in the typically reliable Republican state sought to settle the most expensive political contest in its history.
The race between Republican Roger Marshall, a two-term congressman for western and central Kansas, and Democrat Barbara Bollier, a Kansas City-area state senator, attracted a flood of money from outside the state. Bollier raised more than $25 million for her campaign to Marshall’s $6.5 million, but outside groups were set to pour more than $41 million into advertising by Election Day, and three-quarters of it came from GOP organizations.
Marshall entered the fall campaign with the GOP’s traditional advantage in voter registration and with history on his side. Republicans had won every Senate race in Kansas since 1932, and Democrats watched over the decades as GOP moderates toyed with deserting the party, only to drift back. The closest Democrats previously came to ending the GOP’s streak was in 1974, when then-Republican Sen. Bob Dole won reelection by less than 2 percentage points following the Watergate political scandal that forced President Richard Nixon from office.
Marshall and Bollier were vying to replace four-term Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, who was not seeking reelection.
Establishment Republicans backed Marshall in a contentious primary with conservative hardliner Kris Kobach, a former Kansas secretary of state, arguing that Marshall wouldn’t need the national Republican Party to prop him up in a tough year for the GOP. But Marshall needed help anyway, as Bollier, like other Democratic Senate candidates around the country, attracted millions of dollars in contributions from outside her home state and blanketed the television airwaves with ads.
Bollier, who was elected to the state Senate in 2016, was a lifelong moderate Republican who switched parties at the end of 2018, mainly over her dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump and the Kansas GOP’s strong opposition in its party platform to LGBTQ rights. She pitched herself as an independent and commonsense centrist.
Marshall and his allies portrayed Bollier as too liberal – even radical – for Kansas, attacking her over her strong support for abortion rights and for gun control measures. They circulated video of Bollier during an early October event where she praised a 1990s law in Australia approved in the wake of a mass shooting there that forced the owners of 700,000 firearms to sell them to the government.
The race also featured two doctors taking different approaches to the coronavirus pandemic. Bollier, a retired anesthesiologist, began her campaign by avoiding public events, then insisted on masks and social distancing.
Marshall, an obstetrician before he entered Congress in 2017, said he tried to have outdoor events, but he sometimes was indoors with people who didn’t wear masks or socially distance and he refused to endorse mask mandates. He also said publicly that he was taking the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as an anti-coronavirus measure, even though regulators warned that the risks outweigh the benefits.
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