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Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts Won't Seek Re-Election In 2020

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., speaks on the first day of the 2016 Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.
Joe Raedle
Getty Images
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., speaks on the first day of the 2016 Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

Updated at 1:20 p.m. ET

Longtime Kansas Republican Sen. Pat Roberts announced Friday he won't run for re-election in 2020, opening up a potentially competitive seat in a state where Democrats recently had several unlikely electoral successes.

"I have had the honor and privilege of representing Kansans for 16 years in the House and 22 years so far in the Senate. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would become the longest-serving member of Congress in our state's history," Roberts said, making the announcement in Manhattan, Kan., with his wife by his side.

Roberts fended off a tough primary challenge in 2014, as well as a self-funded independent challenger in the general election, with the help of national Republicans. Questions about his residency hung over his campaign, after he had rented out his Kansas home and later said he had "full access to the recliner" at a friend's house when he returned to the state.

The 82-year-old would very likely have faced another challenge from the right if he had sought re-election. His decision makes him the second Senate Republican to say he will bow out next year. Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander announced his retirement last month.

But unlike the Tennessee contest, the open Kansas seat could be a potential pickup opportunity for Democrats, albeit a tough one. Democrats won the governor's race there last November and flipped a House seat in suburban Kansas City.

National Republicans are already pushing for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a former Kansas representative, to take a look at the race. His clout could potentially clear the field, but he may be reluctant to leave such a high-profile post.

There are several other Republicans who could be eyeing the race. According to the Kansas City Star, potential candidates include outgoing Gov. Jeff Colyer; outgoing Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who narrowly beat Colyer in the gubernatorial primary but lost the general election; former Rep. Kevin Yoder, who lost his re-election bid last fall; state Attorney General Derek Schmidt; Rep. Roger Marshall; and Kansas Chamber of Commerce President Alan Cobb.

Another possible candidate could be American Conservative Union Chairman Matt Schlapp, a Kansas native who is also weighing a potential bid, per the Washington Examiner. The organizer of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, Schlapp is a close ally of President Trump's, and his wife, Mercedes Schlapp, is a communications adviser in the White House.

The Star also reports that former U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, has already been considering a 2020 campaign, buoyed by the Democrats' successes in 2018.

Roberts was first elected to the House in 1980, having worked as a congressional aide for more than a decade prior. He won his first Senate race in 1996, and during nearly four decades in Congress, became the first person in history to chair both the House Agriculture Committee and the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, where he helped shepherd several farm bills. Roberts has also chaired the Senate Ethics Committee, as well as the Senate intelligence committee, where he was criticized by Democrats in the aftermath of the intelligence failures that led to the Iraq War.

"Certainly leading farm bills in the House and Senate touch many lives, and I've always been mindful of what farm families do for our nation in a troubled and hungry world as we crafted each bill," Roberts said, reflecting on his tenure. "As the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman for four years during the Iraq War, I led the Committee's investigation that exposed worldwide intelligence failures leading to building a better Intelligence Community that today keeps our country safer."

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Jessica Taylor is a political reporter with NPR based in Washington, DC, covering elections and breaking news out of the White House and Congress. Her reporting can be heard and seen on a variety of NPR platforms, from on air to online. For more than a decade, she has reported on and analyzed House and Senate elections and is a contributing author to the 2020 edition of The Almanac of American Politics and is a senior contributor to The Cook Political Report.