The activist network backed by libertarian billionaire Charles Koch is dropping big bucks into the Kansas Senate race as polls show the contest beginning to tighten.
Americans for Prosperity Action, a super PAC that's part of the larger Koch network, is backing Republican physician and congressman Roger Marshall in a state that's historically been a GOP stronghold.
Marshall emerged victorious from a recent primary, after Republican Sen. Pat Roberts decided to retire. Roberts has served four terms in the Senate. He was reelected in a closely fought race in 2014 with help from the Koch network.
This time Marshall, who has served in the U.S. House of Representatives for one term, is going up against Barbara Bollier, a fellow physician and a member of the Kansas state legislature.
A recent public poll by Survey USA suggests the race is essentially a dead heat, with Marshall receiving approval from 46% of the surveys overall vote and Bollier picking up 44% of support from those who participated in the poll.
The Cook Political Report labels the race as "lean Republican." Meanwhile, Democratic nominee Joe Biden leads President Donald Trump by 7 points nationally, according to a Real Clear Politics polling average. Trump easily defeated then Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in Kansas during the 2016 presidential election.
The Koch network getting involved in the Kansas race comes as Republican leaders prepare for the possibility that they may lose their majority in the Senate. At least seven Republican-held Senate seats are up for grabs. The Cook Political Report has marked races in Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Montana and North Carolina as toss-ups. The Arizona race between Republican Martha McSally and Democrat Mark Kelly has been deemed "lean Democrat."
Of those toss-up races, four of them are seeing activity from the Koch-linked super PAC. The committee plans to launch a new $5 million digital ad campaign targeting swing voters in support of Marshall and the other Senate candidates it's backing. The ad campaign will start this week and go into November.
The network plans to unleash its grassroots army, both through door knocking and phone banking, to help Marshall overtake his Democratic opponent, according to Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity (AFP). Its first digital ad in support of Marshall is set to run next week, and the PAC is also planning to send out direct mail.
AFP, Phillips noted, has had a strong presence in Kansas since 2004 with offices across the state. What's more, Charles Koch has a home in Kansas, and his company, Koch Industries, is located in Wichita.
"It's a fluid year. And in a fluid year with swing voters profoundly impacted right now by all the crises that our nation is facing, we don't want to take any chances," Phillips said to CNBC. He pointed to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic as a hurdle for most voters. Phillips noted that it moved to back Marshall because it believes his proposals match up with the policies the network supports, such as tax reform, business deregulation and being against "Medicare for All."
In the most recent contest for the same Senate seat, in 2014, the network spent millions attacking Roberts' opponent through a now defunct super PAC, Freedom Partners Action Fund. According to data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, Greg Orman, who was running as an independent, saw over $3 million spent against him by the PAC.
It was one of the top independent expenditures by the Koch-linked group that cycle.
The race, according to The Wichita Eagle, was close throughout part of election night but Roberts ended up pulling off a victory.