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Kris Kobach Loses Kansas Senate Primary, Easing Republican Worries

Kansas Republicans on Tuesday soundly rejected the Senate bid of Kris W. Kobach, a polarizing figure in state politics and a staunch ally of President Trump’s, choosing instead to nominate a conservative congressman who was the preferred choice of party leaders.

Mr. Kobach was defeated in the primary by Representative Roger Marshall, The Associated Press reported, a major relief to G.O.P. officials in Kansas and Washington who had worried that Mr. Kobach would uniquely jeopardize the seat in the general election and would be a thorn in the side of party leadership if he won. Mr. Marshall will face State Senator Barbara Bollier, a former Republican herself who switched parties, in November.

In Missouri, a progressive activist, Cori Bush, pulled off a stunning upset against 19-year incumbent William Lacy Clay Jr., marking a turning point for the progressive movement in its bid to threaten more centrist elected officials. If she wins in November, Ms. Bush, a nurse who was a local leader in the Black Lives Matter movement in St. Louis, would be the first person outside the Clay family to represent the seat in more than 50 years.

In a closely watched Democratic House race in Michigan, Representative Rashida Tlaib was facing a tough challenge from her 2018 rival, Brenda Jones, with little of the vote having been reported late in the evening. Ms. Tlaib is a member of the progressive “squad” of women of color who helped shape the party’s House majority.

Mr. Kobach, a former Kansas secretary of state known for his hard-line views on immigration and voting rights, was seen by party leaders as an especially weak potential general election candidate, even in a state that has not sent a Democrat to the Senate in 88 years. In the 2018 governor’s race, Mr. Kobach lost to Laura Kelly, a Democrat, and heading into this week’s contest, Senate Republican polling showed that nearly 30 percent of Republican primary voters indicated they would support Ms. Bollier in the general election if Mr. Kobach were the nominee.

Early results indicated that Mr. Kobach lost counties he had won handily in the 2018 primary, and in some places he lost last cycle, the margins of defeat were bigger this time. A rival candidate, Bob Hamilton, a businessman who started a successful plumbing company and has lent his own campaign several million dollars, also took some counties Mr. Kobach had won in the 2018 primary. (His slogan: “Send in a plumber to drain the swamp.”)

It is possible that the race could still be in play this fall, as Republicans confront a challenging political landscape shaped by disapproval of Mr. Trump’s leadership during the coronavirus crisis. But Republicans and Democrats alike expected the state to be much more competitive if Mr. Kobach had won the nomination.

ImageKris Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state, is known for his hard-line views on immigration and voting rights. 
Credit…Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

Kansas was one of several states, including Missouri, Michigan and Arizona, holding some of the last remaining primaries before November’s general election. It was a new test of the mail-in voting systems that many states are relying on during the coronavirus pandemic. The lack of immediate results in some places was yet another precursor of what is likely to unfold in November, when the reliance on absentee voting systems could delay results past Election Day.

That dynamic was evident on Tuesday in New York City, where, six weeks after Primary Day, the Board of Elections delivered long-awaited victories to two Democrats: Ritchie Torres, a 32-year-old New York City councilman, who won a 12-way Democratic primary for a soon-to-be open House seat, and Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, a longtime incumbent. The expansive use of vote-by-mail in New York was viewed by some as a test of whether the nation is ready for November.

The contests nationwide on Tuesday were a microcosm of several political themes the parties are confronting, including the embrace of Republican candidates fashioned in the style of Mr. Trump and the left-wing push to unseat more centrist House Democrats.

On the Republican side, the Kansas Senate race in particular offered another reminder that the party divisions that existed before Mr. Trump won will persist even after he leaves office. That includes the disagreement between deeply conservative activists, who are skeptical of Washington and approve of the type of white identity politics Mr. Trump has embraced, and the party’s traditional establishment — many members of which have argued that such messaging hurts the party long-term.

One Republican House member, Representative Steve Watkins of Kansas, fell to a primary challenger, Jake LaTurner. Mr. Watkins had been charged with four counts of voter fraud last month, which capped off an embattled two years in Congress after he was elected in 2018. Mr. Watkins reportedly listed a UPS store in Topeka as his official residence on a change-of-address form for voter registration in 2019.

In Missouri, Ms. Bush won her rematch against Mr. Clay, a 10-term congressman, after he defeated her handily in 2018.

The success of Ms. Bush, shows a new pathway for the left-wing efforts to remake the House Democratic caucus. Since 2018, progressives have found some success in heavily Democratic districts with a white incumbent and a majority-minority population, a pathway executed by successful House challengers like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York, Ayanna Pressley in Massachusetts and Jamaal Bowman in New York, who coupled the insurgent message of ideological change with an argument about racial representation.

Ms. Bush is the first example of that wing defeating a Black or Latino members of the party’s establishment. Earlier this year, other longtime Black caucus members in Ohio and New York also easily defeated challengers, and some members of the Congressional Black Caucus crowed that the party’s left wing could not threaten them. That is no longer true.

Missouri voters also approved the expansion of Medicaid to more than 200,000 low-income adults, a break from the Trump Administration, which has tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

States handled the election activity Tuesday with moderate success, as Americans continued to show a degree of comfort with mail-in and absentee voting systems even as Mr. Trump and his allies have sought to sow distrust. In Michigan, more than 1.6 million voters had turned in an absentee ballot by Tuesday evening, according to election officials, a sizable portion of the total electorate.

The contests unfolded at a moment of extraordinary turmoil in the nation, capping a summer defined by a pandemic and economic crisis, as well as a national outcry over racism and police brutality. And on both sides of the aisle, the races tested enthusiasm for voting amid a public health crisis.

In Detroit, Corlette Selman, 59, a hair stylist wearing a Black Lives Matter mask, said she felt as if she were voting for her life on Tuesday.

Credit…Elaine Cromie for The New York Times

“What’s most important for me is to get the proper people in place to take over the Senate, to maintain the House and to get us a new president, because we can’t live like this anymore,” she said.

In Kansas, a statewide race for a Democrat is always an uphill battle. But after the moderate Kansas City suburbs sent a Democrat to Congress in 2018, and as Mr. Trump faces a backlash even in red states, Republican strategists had grown increasingly uneasy about the contest over all — though many observers’ fears were especially concentrated on the prospect of a Kobach nomination.

“The Republican majority in this country may well go through Kansas and we are the backstop,” Mr. Marshall said on Tuesday, according to The Kansas City Star. Mr. Kobach, in his concession speech, promised to “do everything I can” to help Republicans hold the seat, the Star reported.

Mr. Kobach, who has run for office multiple times, has long been a controversial figure in Kansas. He has cultivated a devoted conservative following but has also alienated more centrist Republicans.

Throughout the race, he sought to paint his lead primary rival, Mr. Marshall, as too moderate and insufficiently supportive of the president. Mr. Marshall, who is in fact deeply conservative especially on social issues, fought those characterizations at every turn while the Senate Republican leadership implored Mr. Trump to endorse Mr. Marshall and block Mr. Kobach. The president did not do so, fueling tensions between Capitol Hill and the White House.

On Tuesday evening, Mr. Trump spoke with Mr. Marshall, and the congressman put the president on speakerphone at an election night gathering.

“Well, I want to congratulate everybody and Roger, that’s an incredible race,” Mr. Trump said, pledging his “total support.” “Now we have to win the one on Nov. 3. We have to win a couple of them on Nov. 3, come to think.”

Mr. Marshall was not the original top choice of party leaders, who had hoped that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a former Kansas congressman, would enter the race.

When Mr. Pompeo declined to run, top Senate Republicans rallied around Mr. Marshall, as did a range of influential organizations, a list that included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Farm Bureau and several anti-abortion groups. The National Republican Senatorial Committee also quietly led a voter contact effort called “Operation Scorched Prairie” aimed at boosting Mr. Marshall, according to a person familiar with the effort, making 2.3 million unique voter contacts over text and calls in the final six days of the race.

Mr. Marshall made clear that one of his biggest concerns was the crowded field, often singling out Mr. Hamilton.

That dynamic made the race fluid and unpredictable in its final days. Complicating matters further: An outside group, which appears to be linked to Democrats, had been advertising heavily and attacked Mr. Marshall in an apparent effort to elevate Mr. Kobach. But ultimately, Mr. Marshall achieved a victory much earlier in the evening than many observers had expected.

Luke Broadwater, Nick Corasaniti and Kathleen Gray contributed reporting.

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