Trump tells associates on Air Force One he will not intervene in Kansas' US Senate GOP primary

CNN/ Newswire | 7/30/2020, 4:26 p.m.

By Alex Rogers and Manu Raju, CNN

(CNN) -- President Donald Trump indicated to associates during a flight on Air Force One on Wednesday that he would not intervene in the US Senate Republican primary in Kansas despite the fears among top Republicans that the state could elect a nominee who will lose the seat and thus the Senate, according to three sources with knowledge of the conversation.

While the GOP establishment has long been alarmed by the prospect that conservative firebrand Kris Kobach could win the primary on Tuesday only to lose the general election in November, Trump has so far not endorsed its favored candidate, Republican Rep. Roger Marshall. Trump has spoken with both Marshall and Kobach over the past several months but has never seemed highly motivated to make an endorsement, even when he's pushed by his close allies, according to a White House official.

That appeared to again be the case during the flight from Texas. One source said that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz chimed in during the conversation, reminding Trump that Marshall had initially supported then-Ohio Gov. John Kasich in the 2016 presidential race. Trump responded that he would not weigh in on Kansas' Senate primary.

Cruz told CNN on Thursday that he would not divulge details of a "private conversation with the President." The senator added, "I have not taken a position in that race."

While a Democrat has not won a US Senate seat in Kansas since 1932, the GOP primary race could very well determine which party controls the Senate next year. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report recently concluded that the Democrats are a "slight favorite" to take back the Senate as the President's popularity has plummeted.

Establishment Republicans are concerned that if Kobach wins the party's nomination, the race will be a repeat of 2018, when he lost the gubernatorial race to Democrat Laura Kelly. State Sen. Barbara Bollier, a former Republican running for the Democratic nomination, has broken state fundraising records by bringing in $7.8 million, according to the latest Federal Election Commission filings.

"Republican senators are very worried about this," said a Republican strategist granted anonymity to discuss a delicate matter involving the President. "This is what contributes to his lack of connection to Senate Republicans. They don't feel like he has their back."

Marshall represents a solidly Republican, farm-focused district from which former Senate Republican leader Bob Dole, Sen. Jerry Moran and the retiring Sen. Pat Roberts built the base of their power. Dole and Roberts have both endorsed Marshall.

Roberts told CNN that this was the first time that he has endorsed in a Republican primary. "I think the stakes are so high that it was the thing to do," said Roberts. He said "well, yeah" it would be helpful for the President to endorse Marshall but did not think Trump would do so.

"Hell, everybody can always do more," Roberts said when asked if Trump should say something that would be helpul to Marshall in the primary.