Will Mike Pompeo run for Senate? Kansas waits and wonders

By Tara McKelvey
BBC News

  • Published
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the Heritage Foundation's Annual President's Club MeetingImage source, EPA
Image caption,
Mr Pompeo is seen by many Republicans in Kansas as the president's heir apparent

For many in Kansas, the home state of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the question is not if he will run for Senate but when he will announce his bid. Republicans see him as their greatest hope, a man who can unite their party. For Democrats in the state, he embodies their biggest fear.

Mr Pompeo was in the state's largest city, Wichita, on Thursday with Ivanka Trump, a White House adviser, and spoke with students about technology. It was his fourth trip to Kansas this year.

People say he has come back frequently not to enjoy the weather - the state is known for bone-chilling winters and blistering summers - but because he hopes to run for the US Senate.

Republicans in Wichita, his hometown, say they have been speaking with him privately about a campaign and have described those conversations with enthusiasm.

But they and other Kansas Republicans, a group that includes evangelicals, Trump loyalists and moderates, are also planning for the time when President Trump leaves office. They see Mr Pompeo as the president's heir apparent.

Republicans and Democrats alike say Mr Pompeo is a rare creature in the president's cabinet: even after several years, he remains scandal-free. "Pompeo played his cards well," says Friends University Prof Russell Arben Fox in Wichita.

Mr Pompeo could run for the US Senate: the primary deadline is 1 June. Rep Roger Marshall and Kris Kobach, a former Kansas secretary of state, among others, are competing in the primary. They are vying for a seat that US Senator Pat Roberts, a Republican who will retire, has held for years.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Even after several years in the Trump administration, Mr Pompeo remains scandal-free

Mr Pompeo, 55, has said he is not planning to run for Senate and will remain secretary of state as long so as the president will have him. "I'm going to be there until he tweets me out of office," he said in Kansas in March.

During his visit to Kansas this week, he said there was "no change" in his plans, according to the Washington Post.

But those who know him are not convinced. His friends at the Pachyderm Club, an organisation for Republicans in Wichita, believe he is planning to run for Senate and have pinned their hopes on his future.

"When Donald is not running any longer, he'd make an excellent Republican candidate," says John Stevens, a former president of the Pachyderm Club. Another club member, Paul Soutar, agrees: "The sky's the limit for Mike."

They believe that Mr Pompeo, a devout Christian, has the right mix of religious faith and conservative beliefs in low taxes and small government. He has served in the US House of Representatives and as CIA director, roles that have helped him win the confidence of moderate Republicans.

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Mike Pompeo spoke to the BBC last year in January about his relationship with President Trump

Walter Berry, the head of a Wichita company that sells construction equipment, thinks Mr Pompeo is the right kind of leader for the party. He does not "have all of the rough edges that Trump has", says Mr Berry, yet "has the right principles".

Mr Pompeo is likely to win a Senate seat - either in the upcoming campaign or in the 2022 Senate election. Describing Mr Pompeo's "aura of congeniality", Devany Elliot, a university student in Wichita, says he would easily win the seat and could someday end up in the White House.

"I know a lot of people in my life who would love to vote for somebody like that," she says. "It's something I find quite terrifying."

For conservatives, Mr Pompeo represents positive change. Liberals see the situation in starkly different terms. But for now, he is keeping them waiting and wondering.