U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s name began circulating Friday as a potential entrant before Roberts had officially announced his retirement.
The former Wichita congressman flirted with the idea of challenging Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, in 2016. Pompeo decided against that, but was quickly elevated by Trump to CIA director and later secretary of state. His current role, which puts him fourth in line for the presidency.
Kelly Arnold, chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, voiced skepticism that Pompeo would consider giving up his role as the nation’s top diplomat.
“I’d love to have him as our senator, but I think he’s working on bigger projects right now,” Arnold said.
Arnold saw Colyer, Marshall and Schmidt as the most likely candidates for the race.
Other names floating around GOP circles include former Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kansas, who lost his seat to Democrat Sharice Davids, Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union who grew up in Wichita, and
Ajit Pai, the Kansas native who chairs the Federal Communications Commission, according to Arnold.
Marshall, who is now the most senior member of the state’s U.S. House members, is seriously considering the seat, but he’s treading carefully for now as Congress continues to grapple with a government shutdown.
“We’re in no hurry to decide on anything,” said Marshall, who sported a purple Kansas State University tie Friday as a tribute to Roberts, a fellow Wildcat.
“Until we get the funding for the border wall, for border security, that’s my focus,” Marshall said. “I think I was the last congressman to leave before the holiday, the first one back and I’m just going to keep pushing that. That’s my job to do for Kansas right now.”
Colyer has indicated an interest in pursuing the seat after he turns over the the governor’s office to Democrat Laura Kelly on Jan. 14, but Roberts’ retirement announcement did not prompt Colyer to officially launch a run.
“Throughout his time in office, Kansans have been able to rely on Pat Roberts’ expertise, energy, and gravitas,” Colyer said in a statement. “It is essential that our next U.S. Senator bring these same qualities to the job.”
The Johnson County plastic surgeon served as governor for a little less than one year after Sam Brownback joined Trump’s administration, losing the August GOP primary by
345 votes after the president issued a last minute endorsement of his opponent, Kris Kobach.
Kobach, a conservative firebrand and the outgoing Kansas secretary of state, did not return a phone call Friday about whether he might pursue a run after losing to Kelly in the general election.
Lesser-known candidates have also expressed interest. Trey Joy, elected mayor of Smith Center as a 19-year-old in 2009, said on Twitter that he’ll be exploring a campaign.
Another possible entrant is Alan Cobb, the president of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and former adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Cobb is considering a campaign after a long career as a behind-the-scenes player. He served as lobbyist for Wichita-based Koch Industries and vice president of Americans For Prosperity.
Kansas has not elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1932, when Franklin D. Roosevelt first ran for president.
The Kansas Democratic Party sent out a fundraising email immediately after Roberts announced his retirement. But the field of potential candidates remains small at the moment.
Former U.S. Attorney for Kansas Barry Grissom is weighing a run and has met with national Democratic Party officials about the possibility.
Grissom praised Roberts Friday for his life of public service — despite their policy differences — and noted that the senator supported his confirmation as U.S. attorney in 2010.
On Friday, Roberts declined to suggest anyone as a possible successor, saying there are “many good candidates in the congressional delegation and outside the congressional delegation.”
He joked that perhaps Bob Dole, the 95-year-old former senator from Kansas, could run again.
“I love Bob. Bob loves me. Just had a conversation about it. He says ‘You’re sure you’re giving this up?’ I said ‘I think so, Bob, I think it’s time. So that means there’s an opening.’ He says ‘I might consider that,’ ” Roberts said. “So write that down, that Bob Dole might come back and run for the Senate.”
Lindsay Wise and Lesley Clark of the McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed to this report.