TOPEKA — Kansas Treasurer Jake LaTurner dived into the 2020 U.S. Senate race Tuesday, hoping to make a splash by being the first to declare his candidacy.
A crowded pack of Republicans are expected to join LaTurner in a bare knuckle primary brawl to replace longtime Sen. Pat Roberts, who revealed Friday he won’t seek a fourth term.
LaTurner, 30, said he was eager to announce his intentions early, ending speculation about whether he would run.
“I think people are wondering who’s going to get in, so we wanted to be first out of the gate and let people know we’re doing it,” LaTurner said.
He also unveiled a seven-part platform, which he called a Contract with Kansas, promising to support term limits, construction of a border wall with Mexico and work requirements for welfare recipients. He will only support pro-life judges.
Other potential candidates for the seat include Gov. Jeff Colyer, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the former congressman from Wichita.
Bob Beatty, a political science professor at Washburn University, sees LaTurner as a mid-tier prospect who doesn’t yet have great name recognition. But there is no question LaTurner will benefit from the attention of being first, Beatty said, and by getting a head start on fundraising and staffing.
“Now is the time for the relatively unknown candidates to get in and see how they do,” Beatty said.
In Cherokee County, of which LaTurner is a native, Republicans are excited about his candidacy.
"We are ecstatic to have a true conservative in the race for United States Senate whose roots are deep in Cherokee County," said Cherokee County Republican Party Chairwoman Lorie Johnson. "The people of our county have always supported Jake in his bed for state Senate and for state treasurer and I have no doubt we will help him to victory in this race as well."
LaTurner said he chose two veteran, well-connected Republicans — Dave Murfin and Ivan Crossland — as his campaign co-chairmen to send a signal about how serious he is. They will allow him to compete in fundraising, he said.
He also thinks his youth will benefit him in the race, saying he represents a new generation of conservative leadership.
“People are really tired of people going to Washington, D.C., and doing something different than they said they were going to do,” LaTurner said. “I think people feel like Washington has failed them, and so I think they’re ready to have a new generation step up and start to lead.”
The Galena native won two elections as a state senator before being appointed in 2017 to finish a term as state treasurer. He defeated state Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, in November to retain the office.
LaTurner’s announcement kicks off an 18-month campaign cycle, a length more typical for presidential races. Eventually, Beatty said, it might be easier to list the Republicans in Kansas who aren’t in the race.
Last year, Republicans suffered from having a multitude of candidates on the primary ballot for governor and the 2nd District congressional race, Beatty said.
“At this point, the Republican party has lost the ability to corral the number of candidates in a race,” Beatty said. “They don’t have any formal powers, but there used to be ways of limiting the numbers in the interest of the party.”