By Steve Holland and Lesley Wroughton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican pressure on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to run for U.S. Senate next year to help keep the party’s majority intact is coming up against President Donald Trump’s hope of keeping one of his most trusted aides in his administration.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republicans believe the former U.S. congressman from Kansas would be a strong candidate should he decide to run for a Senate seat in the state in 2020.
“Secretary Pompeo would clear the field and guarantee the Senate stays Republican,” said Scott Reed, senior political strategist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
But Trump has grown increasingly reliant on the 55-year-old as he juggles a variety of global challenges and would prefer that he stay, several people familiar with the situation say.
A source close to the White House said Trump and Pompeo have discussed the Senate race.
“The president wants more seats in the Senate but doesn’t want to lose Pompeo,” the source said. “He’s probably one of his most trusted aides.”
Pompeo has aligned himself closely to Trump as he actively pursued his policies on Iran, North Korea and Venezuela, and Trump has found him to be a strong successor to Rex Tillerson, who the president derided as “dumb as a rock.”
“I think there is some pressure within the White House to try to clear all this up. But the president wants him to stay,” said a Republican campaign official.
One Republican official, who asked to remain unidentified, said there was some expectation that Pompeo would decide whether to run over the Labor Day holiday weekend that ends September 2.
Other officials said Pompeo was under no particular pressure since the deadline to file for the Republican nomination is not until next June.
A spokesperson for Pompeo did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the issue.
McConnell and other Republicans believe Pompeo can keep the U.S. Senate seat in Kansas now held by Pat Roberts, who has decided not to run for a fifth term.
They don’t have the same confidence in Kris Kobach, a former secretary of state for Kansas who has said he is running. Kobach, a conservative hawk on immigration, lost the governor’s race last year.
On the Democratic side, former U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom is running as well as former U.S. Representative Nancy Boyda. There has been some pressure among Democrats for Kathleen Sebelius, who was Health and Human Services secretary under President Barack Obama, to run but she has not taken that step.
Republicans want to ensure a win in Kansas to improve their chances of maintaining control of the U.S. Senate amid concerns that 2020 could be a difficult year, with incumbents Martha McSally of Arizona and Cory Gardner of Colorado showing signs of weakness.
Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has dropped out of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination and is running for Gardner’s Senate seat.
Pompeo has offered mixed messages on his plans. As recently as Wednesday he told the Washington Examiner that he would remain at the State Department.
“I am going to stay here,” he told the newspaper.
But Pompeo is clearly keeping his options open, either for the Senate or even possibly for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.
Political experts took note on Tuesday when he attended a luncheon meeting of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity organised by New York billionaire John Catsimatidis and attended by heavyweights Steve Forbes, Art Laffer and Stephen Moore as well as big Republican donors.
(Reporting By Steve Holland and Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)