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2020 Daily Trail Markers: Mike Pompeo eyes a Kansas Senate seat

What to expect from the 5th Dem debate

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is still poised to run for an open U.S. Senate seat from his home state of Kansas, according to multiple Republicans familiar with the planning. CBS News Political Correspondent Ed O'Keefe and State Department and Foreign Affairs reporter Christina Ruffini report that Pompeo is not accelerating his plans to leave his current perch and has until a June filing deadline to make a final decision. 

But any move by Pompeo from Foggy Bottom to the campaign trail will not happen until President Trump signs off on the move, according to one of the Republicans familiar with the ongoing talks, who were all granted anonymity to speak frankly about the matter. "If Trump realizes that it comes down to Kansas, he'll tell Pompeo to run," that Republican official said.

At issue is not the impeachment saga engulfing almost everything in Washington. Instead, it's a familiar problem for national Republicans: The party needs a candidate who can win a statewide race. 

Kris Kobach, the former Kansas Secretary of State who pushed for some of the nation's strictest voter registration rules, is already in the race to succeed retiring Republican Senator Pat Roberts. Public and private polling shows Kobach would easily win a GOP primary thanks to his conservative credentials, but then lose by big numbers in a general election to a hypothetical Democratic opponent, costing Republicans a critical Senate seat at a time when the chamber is closely divided. 

Kobach lost the governor's race last year, an embarrassment for Republicans who gave up the state house as part of the national Democratic wave and Kobach's unpopularity with Kansans overall. Already, Democratic state Sen. Barbara Bollier, a former Republican, is in the race and earning support from national Democrats. There is speculation that Kathleen Sebelius, the state's former Democratic governor who served as secretary of Health and Human Services during the Obama administration, could also join the race. So, how do Kansas Republicans solve their problem? Enter Mike Pompeo.

Internal Republican polling shows Pompeo to be "incredibly strong" in a potential primary contest against Kobach, according to multiple Republican officials. "His standing in a primary is astronomical" and it's solid in the general election against a hypothetical Democratic opponent, with Pompeo conceivably winning by at least 20 points, said one of the officials. "Pompeo has Trump-like numbers in Kansas," that official added.  A

nother GOP official said: "Every indication I have is that a Senate run is still very much on the table. He would still be, by far, the best candidate." This official added that "the data has shown consistently" that Pompeo would easily win the Senate seat.

The issue is so critical for Republicans that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — always sensitive to maintain his grip on the Senate — has explained the matter to Mr. Trump, the Republican officials said. But Trump doesn't want his Secretary of State to leave town. "The Pompeo-Trump relationship is still strong," said one of the Republicans.

Traveling in Brussels on Wednesday, aides to Pompeo once again had to tamp down speculation that the secretary is stepping down soon in order to dodge the ongoing impeachment mess in Washington. 

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus, told reporters traveling with the secretary that reports of his imminent resignation to run for the Senate are "completely false. He is 100 percent focused on being President Trump's Secretary of State." Another person close to the secretary said Wednesday that he "is only focused on executing President Trump's foreign policy goals and completing the mission for the American people at the State Department. Anyone who says otherwise is just wrong."

CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson notes that Pompeo has made at least four visits to Kansas since March of this year. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters in July, "I've said several times, and I'm not sure the president agrees with this that I'd love to see the Secretary of State run for Senate in Kansas, but the filing deadline isn't until June, so I think at this early stage in Kansas, I don't really have anything to add." 

FROM THE CANDIDATES

JULIAN CASTRO

While 10 of the 17 Democratic candidates vying for president make their case to American voters at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta this evening, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, who did not qualify for the debate, said he'll be doing the same — on social media. 

CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell says that while speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Castro said that he "will have a voice in the national conversation" as people watch the debate and that it's a shared responsibility to ensure that certain issues are discussed. 

"As much as the candidates, the actual debate moderators [and] the journalists, have a responsibility to bring up these issues to ensure that the American voters understand where people stand on a number of different issues that touch on racial justice and social justice," said Castro. 

"I'm not on the debate stage but I've shaped a lot of the debate already. Whether it's been on housing, on police reform, on immigration, I've already moved a lot of the candidates and shaped that debate and I'm going to keep doing it."

BERNIE SANDERS

Senator Bernie Sanders attended Ariana Grande's Atlanta concert Tuesday night. And Wednesday afternoon, the musician and senator both shared the experience on social media. 

According to Jane Sanders' Twitter, Grande is "supporting" the senator's candidacy. Is that an endorsement? Sanders Communications Director Mike Casca told CBS News campaign reporter Cara Korte, "Ariana and her mother Joan met with Bernie and Jane in Atlanta last night, and they expressed that they're strong supporters of this campaign." 

At a California fundraiser over the summer, Grande maxed out for Kamala Harris. Grande works with Head Count, an organization that works to register concert goers to vote. According to her Twitter, more than 20k people have been registered at her concerts alone. 

STATE-BY-STATE

GEORGIA

CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell spoke with a dozen Georgia voters ahead of tonight's debate about which issues mattered to them most. "Common-man issues," is what one Atlanta resident says matters most to her, while adding that those issues include making healthcare affordable and securing retirement for employees. 

Even for voters who didn't consider themselves "politically tuned in," the desire to get the current president out of office seemed to trump even their personal preferences for candidates. Still, within the mix of voters who spoke with Mitchell were a couple of President Trump supporters who said they would vote for the president again in 2020. 

When asked who he'd vote for if the election were today, Atlanta resident Christopher Andrade-Lopes said, "Donald Trump because he's fighting for America and my number one stance on him is that he's fighting off China." When asked about his thoughts on the current impeachment hearings, Andrade-Lopes replied "I think all of it's fake and I don't think [Democrats] have any evidence and I think they're trying to retroactively reverse the election results."

IOWA

A new CBS News analysis by campaign reporters Musadiq Bidar and Adam Brewster shows where the current Democratic candidates have campaigned around Iowa in 2019 based on events open to the public or press during the campaign. 

For candidates who either launched their campaigns or an exploratory committee prior to 2019, their totals only account for visits and events in the 2019 calendar year. For other candidates, the tally of visits and events begins since their campaign launch or exploratory committee, whichever came first. This includes appearances by each candidate at multi-candidate events or forums. For example, 16 of the candidates spoke at the Wing Ding on August 9 in Cerro Gordo County, accounting for 16 of the appearances in that county.

Polk County, the state's largest, has had by far the most events and appearances by candidates, with 321 as of Wednesday. It is followed by Linn County, where Cedar Rapids is located, with 129 events and appearances. Johnson County, one of the strongest Democratic counties in Iowa, was third with 60 events or appearances. 

In Iowa, 31 of the state's 99 counties pivoted from supporting President Obama twice to supporting President Trump in 2016. 

Of the 10 candidates who will be on the debate stage tonight, Senator Amy Klobuchar leads the pack with campaign stops in 55 of Iowa's 99 counties. Klobuchar has said she intends to visit every county in Iowa. The next closest candidate is Mayor Pete Buttigieg with 37 counties, followed by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders at 36 each, and Senator Cory Booker at 30. No other debate stage candidate has reached 30 counties as of Wednesday.

Total Candidate Visits

Former Vice President Joe Biden

Sen. Cory Booker

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard

Senator Kamala Harris

Senator Amy Klobuchar

Senator Bernie Sanders

Tom Steyer

Senator Elizabeth Warren

Andrew Yang

UP FOR DEBATE

ATLANTA, TYLER PERRY STUDIOS, AND WHY TONIGHT'S SETTING IS MORE THAN A LOCATION

For some, "welcome to Atlanta" beckons to memory lyrics from the rap song of the same name. To others, CBS News campaign reporter LaCrai Mitchell says, the city's mention brings forth images of the late Martin Luther King Jr. and black & white photos from the Civil Rights movement. 

Tonight, it will be the backdrop for the fifth Democratic presidential debate, which will take place at the newly-opened Tyler Perry Studios. In an interview with CBS This Morning anchor Gayle King last month, African American writer, director, and actor Tyler Perry called it "poetic justice" that his 330-acre movie studio complex now sits on grounds where the Confederate Army once fought to keep people who looked like him enslaved.

GOP TACTICS

TRUMP CAMPAIGN

With Democrats descending on Atlanta for the 5th democratic presidential debate, the Trump campaign is participating in some counter-programming. If people looked up today in the city, CBS News political unit associate producer Sarah Ewall-Wice says there's was a chance they got a glimpse of the banner the campaign had attached to the back of an airplane claiming "Democrats' socialism will destroy Atlanta jobs." 

The Trump campaign also took out a full-page color newspaper ad in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which took aim at Democrats while touting a list of the president's accomplishments. The campaign's efforts are similar to the approach it also took during previous 2020 Democratic primary debates this year.

BALLOT BOX

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg filed to be on the ballot in Texas on Wednesday, reports CBS News political unit associate producer Eleanor Watson. This is the third Super Tuesday state Bloomberg has filed for in recent weeks without formally announcing a presidential campaign. The deadline to be on the Texas ballot isn't until December 9th, but Bloomberg paid the fee of $2,500 on Wednesday to be on it. Other candidates already on the ballot are Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Senator Kamala Harris, and Senator Amy Klobuchar.

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