WASHINGTON - Republican political donors have been told to hold off contributing to the 2020 U.S. Senate race in Kansas in the expectation that Secretary of State Michael Pompeo may decide to run, according to two people familiar with the matter.
A Pompeo ally has been advising potential contributors to wait until after the secretary of State makes his decision, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing a private message communicated to donors. The top U.S. diplomat and former CIA director, who served as a congressman in Kansas's 4th district from 2011-2017, has until June to enter the race.
Pompeo has given mixed signals about his intentions. In a July interview with David Rubenstein at the Economic Club of Washington, he said: "It's off the table. As a practical matter, I'm going to serve as secretary of State every day that I get the chance to do so."
But asked earlier in the month about running for the Senate, Pompeo told KCMO Radio - which broadcasts in Kansas - that "I always need to be open to the possibility that something will change and my path in life will change too."
A Pompeo spokeswoman declined to comment.
As he weighs his decision, Pompeo has been courted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other top Republican leaders who are anxious that a Democratic candidate could claim the seat that will open with fellow Republican Pat Roberts's retirement.
The race has become crowded with Republican candidates, including immigration hard-liner Kris Kobach and Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, though several candidates have said they'd bow out if Pompeo gets in.
While Pompeo has been equivocal about a possible run, his actions and speeches have only fueled speculation that he's laying the groundwork for a Senate bid - and possibly a presidential run in 2024.
The West Point graduate, who was born in California, has continued to do outreach to Kansas officials and voters, regularly visiting his adopted home state. He recently met with the Kansas contingent at a Veterans of Foreign Wars conference in Orlando, Fla. He also plans to return to the state in September to deliver a speech at Kansas State University.
One of the people who discussed Pompeo's plans said the secretary of State has also met with potential political donors in New York and California.
Pompeo was in Kansas again on Monday, stopping at an International House of Pancakes restaurant to celebrate his mother-in-law's birthday,The Kansas City Star reported. The store's manager told the paper that some customers thought that Pompeo was going to deliver a speech. Instead, he ordered two scrambled eggs, two pancakes, two strips of turkey bacon and a Pepsi.
A person close to Pompeo said the secretary, despite his denials, hasn't made a decision on whether to leave the State Department, where he has overseen the Trump administration's negotiations with North Korea and led efforts to ratchet up pressure on Iran. But analysts say he'd be a potent candidate.
"You have a guy who was director of the CIA, secretary of State, he's a veteran," said Aaron David Miller, a former adviser at the State Department. "On paper, he represents the embodiment of what many Republicans would look to, and I think he understands that."
At the same time, Pompeo has sounded out some allies and advisers on the advantages and disadvantages of making a presidential bid from the Senate or the private sector. And he has spoken privately with the same confidantes about the possibility of leaving the State Department later this year.
A person familiar with President Donald Trump's thinking said that he's annoyed by all the speculation about a possible run by Pompeo, the only remaining member of Trump's original national security Cabinet.
Even as Pompeo has maintained his Kansas ties, his speeches and actions at the State Department show how much he also continues to appeal to conservatives he'd want to lure in a Kansas race.
Supporters of gay rights were disheartened in June when Pompeo declined to distribute a diplomatic cable to embassies around the world instructing them on how to celebrate Gay Pride Month, a routine practice from years past. He also reversed past policy allowing embassies globally to fly the gay pride rainbow flag from the same flagpole as the Stars and Stripes.
While secretaries of State traditionally avoid overt political statements, Pompeo has criticized former President Barack Obama by name. In a speech to the VFW conference in Orlando last month, he accused the former president of "appeasement of the brutal Castro regime" - a reference to the easing of economic restrictions on Cuba. He then went further, suggesting that past administrations had lost sight of the "American creed."
"Perhaps saddest of all, we let the doctrines of global elites dictate our engagement," Pompeo said.
"I read that and I just thought, 'OK, this is a guy who's got his eye on 2024,'" James Goldgeier, a professor of international relations at American University, said in an interview. "This isn't a guy interested in talking like a secretary of State. He's a guy interested in making connections that help him in his political future."
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