A former Republican who’s now running for U.S. Senate as a Democrat in Kansas earned heavyweight endorsements on Thursday from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Emily’s List, support that typically comes in the form of big investments to help candidates with advertising, fundraising and get-out-the-vote efforts.
Barbara Bollier, a state senator and a retired anesthesiologist who switched parties last year, is running for a Senate seat being vacated by GOP Sen. Pat Roberts, who is retiring. As multiple Republicans battle it out in a crowded primary to succeed him—overshadowed by the possibility that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo might eventually jump into the race—Democrats in Kansas have consolidated around Mrs. Bollier as their top candidate.
Soon after she announced her intention to run earlier this month, former U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom bowed out of the Democratic primary and threw his support to her. Former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who served as President Obama’s Health and Human Services secretary, endorsed Mrs. Bollier recently, as did the state’s current governor, Democrat Laura Kelly.
The DSCC has endorsed candidates in six races so far this year: Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Iowa, New Mexico, and South Carolina. Its early announcement of support for Mrs. Bollier shows that Democrats are hoping their map of competitive races could expand to ruby red Kansas.
The state has not elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1932. If Democrats win the White House next year, they must gain three seats to take control of the Senate, or four if Mr. Trump gets re-elected.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, chair of the DSCC, the campaign arm of Senate Democrats, praised Mrs. Bollier’s background and stressed her independence. “Barbara Bollier has committed her life to helping people and this is the same approach she’ll bring to the U.S. Senate to work for all Kansans,” she said.
Stephanie Schriock, the president of Emily’s List, a national group that works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights, said Mrs. Bollier will fight to protect Kansans’ access to quality, affordable health care when elected. She cited Mrs. Bollier’s record opposing the controversial tax plan of former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.
Mrs. Bollier, a moderate who represented suburban Kansas City, left the GOP last year. Republicans had stripped her of her committee assignments after she endorsed Democrat Laura Kelly for governor over then-Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican. Mrs. Bollier said at the time that she was frustrated by her party’s stance on gay and transgender rights and unhappy with President Trump. Her pro-abortion rights stance is notable in a state that has served as ground zero in many battles over abortion.
A resurgence by the Democratic Party in Kansas in the last election cycle has been driven largely by women: In addition to Ms. Kelly retaking the governorship, now-Rep. Sharice Davids, the first gay Native American woman elected to Congress, flipped a suburban congressional seat. Mrs. Sebelius campaigned alongside both female candidates and is expected to hit the campaign trail again in 2020.
Some national Republicans are nervous about Mrs. Bollier’s candidacy, but Kansas Republicans are bullish on their chances of keeping the seat. The same things that make Mrs. Bollier an attractive recruit for Democrats will cause Kansans to reject her, said Eric Pahls, campaign manager for Rep. Roger Marshall, one of the Republicans running for the Senate seat.
“Barbara Bollier was hand-picked by Chuck Schumer because of her long history as a tax-and-spend, pro-abortion, anti-2nd Amendment liberal,” Mr. Pahls said. “For her entire political career, she’s pretended to be someone she isn’t.”