U.S. Senate candidate Bryan Pruitt recoils when an established Kansas politician alludes to ascending to the seat held by retiring Republican Pat Roberts.
He likewise expresses alarm at the risk some in the GOP appear willing to accept in 2020 by nominating a wounded candidate.
Pruitt, a Wichita native and former conservative commentator in Washington, D.C., said on the Capitol Insider podcast that voters deserved more from the U.S. Senate campaign than could be achieved by anointing U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, the Great Bend physician serving western Kansas' 1st District, or gambling on former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, of Lecompton.
In terms of name recognition and fundraising, Marshall and Kobach have significant advantages over Pruitt. But adhering to a political calculus that discounts underdogs may hand the seat to a Democrat for the first time since the 1930s, Pruitt said.
"The idea that the 1st District congressman has a right or is entitled to a Senate seat, I think that's disrespectful," said Pruitt, of Manhattan. "I believe a Kris Kobach win in August loses this Senate seat to whichever of the Democrats win."
In January, Roberts announced plans not to seek re-election. In addition to Pruitt, Kobach and Marshall, the GOP field includes Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, of Wichita, and former NFL player Dave Lindstrom, of Overland Park. The Democratic field features former U.S. Rep. Nancy Boyda, of Baldwin City; Barry Grissom, a former U.S. attorney from Leawood; Usha Reddi, a Manhattan city commissioner; and Robert Tillman, of Wichita.
Pruitt said his campaign centered on preserving a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, securing the GOP's future under President Donald Trump and restoring the traditional role of Congress by restraining the judicial and executive branches of government.
He was drawn to the race by prospects of an open Senate seat and a sense Kansans were open to new voices. The 2018 election of U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, a Democrat who defeated Republican incumbent Kevin Yoder, caught his attention.
"Even though I disagree with her on almost all policy positions," Pruitt said, "it was amazing to see a lesbian, Native American, mixed martial arts fighter get elected in a district that is overwhelmingly Republican."
He said the nation should re-elect Trump in 2020 because the president was a better candidate than any of the top Democrats. He praised the president's refusal to be nuanced on policy and criticized people clinging to "Elizabethan attitudes" about politics.
Pruitt, with relatives operating a farm in Greeley County, said the president was "just wrong" to pursue trade tariffs capable of resulting in lasting damage to the Kansas agricultural economy.
He's pro-life in regard to abortion, but shared concern about the fundamental optics of "white guys" lecturing young women about control of their bodies. He believes conservative, anti-abortion women need to take a leadership role in the debate.
Pruitt, who has been in a 15-year relationship with his partner, Mark, said Kansans had changed since 2005 when the state's voters approved an amendment to the Kansas Constitution by a 2-to-1 margin defining marriage as the union of a man and woman. State bans on same-sex marriage were struck down as unconstitutional in 2015.
"I think Kansans have changed their opinion on gay marriage because they see and experience gay people in their everyday lives," he said.
Pruitt earned a bachelor's degree at Catholic University in Washington and sought a master’s degree at Wichita State University. His career has included political consulting with telephone and mailing operations, trade association and financial services organizations, as well as work with the conservative website RedState.