After months of uncertainty, Kim Borchers did get to experience her first Republican National Convention in person — for a day.
Borchers, a Topeka resident, was part of a small group of state party officials who trekked to Charlotte, N.C., on Monday to renominate President Donald Trump at a version of what is usually a mega-event that was scaled down because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While Kansas officials did engage in some in-person events Monday, they since returned to join the remainder of the delegation in front of their TV sets for the virtual portion of the convention, which wrapped up Thursday night.
The socially distant, scaled-down version of proceedings in Charlotte meant more elbow room on the convention floor. But Borchers said there was still something missing.
"I miss the fact that all the people who work so hard in politics, the grassroots people — I mean who doesn’t (like) to go to a national convention and be with other like-minded people and see the president of the United States," she said. "That’s the part that I didn’t like, that those folks didn’t get to go."
Kansas Republicans will be hoping that energy will be present in living rooms across the state, with the convention proceedings doubling down on Trump’s record.
While it is expected that a party would embrace its sitting president, the 2020 RNC has particularly embraced Trump’s vision of conservatism. The speaker list largely eschewed top congressmen in key races in lieu of longtime Trump allies.
The docked also included Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the former Kansas congressman tipped for a potential run at higher office. Pompeo raised eyebrows with a recorded address from Israel on foreign policy, although the Trump administration has insisted no taxpayer funds were used.
All this adds up to a convention that hasn’t been seen before, according to Burdett Loomis, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Kansas.
"Right now it is continuing this kind of chaos ... just the crashing of norms, like Pompeo giving the talk, (first lady) Melania (Trump) using the White House as a prop and on and on," Loomis said.
Party conventions typically include no shortage of red meat for hard-core supporters, and last week’s DNC was no exception.
"The Republican Party, what they had on the main stage is who they are," Borchers said. "And I think when you look at the common-sense approach that Republicans are coming at issues instead of fringe, that is where people are more comfortable."
But DNC officials also elected to go with the unconventional move of having not just card-carrying Democrats give speeches but also former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, and several former Bush administration officials, including former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
The speeches were ostensibly an olive branch to moderate Republican voters — the same ones Democrats have been courting in Kansas in recent years.
Recent polling from SurveyUSA showed Democratic nominee Joe Biden trailing Trump by seven points in Kansas. In comparison, Trump won the state by over 20 points in 2016 against Hillary Clinton.
Few experts believe Biden has a realistic chance of winning the Sunflower State. But the margin could have ramifications in its marquee matchup: the U.S. Senate race between U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall and Democratic state Sen. Barbara Bollier.
Bollier, who changed her party affiliation two years ago, has rolled out a slate of Republican endorsements to try and chip away at Marshall’s advantage in the state and help win over moderate voters who helped boost Democrats in 2018.
Recent polls have shown Bollier within striking distance of Marshall, including a recent SurveyUSA poll that showed Marshall leading Bollier 46% to 44%.
While doubling down on appealing to his base may not boost Trump in swing states, could it help energize Kansas voters in the U.S. Senate race?
Loomis said he doesn’t think so, although Marshall has routinely touted his proximity to the president throughout his primary and general election campaigns.
"Maybe the most interested person in the state is Roger Marshall," he said. "If I’m Roger Marshall, maybe I’m putting a good face on this, but so far anyway, I don’t see how I’m being helped by Donald Trump right now. He may not be hurting me, but I don’t think he’s helping much, if anything."
Borchers was more confident, saying voters would reject figures like Bollier, whose moderate bona fides she called into question.
That applies equally to former mainstream Republicans, such as Kasich or former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, who graced the stage at the DNC and at campaign events for Biden in recent days.
"Every four years you’re endorsing a Democrat, which tells me you need to become a Democrat," Borchers said, although many of the Republicans who back Bollier say she is the first Democrat they have ever endorsed.
But with two competitive congressional races, including one in the 2nd District between State Treasurer Jake LaTurner and Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla, Republicans will be looking to boost turnout in other down-ballot races as well.
That proves doubly for key Statehouse races, as the party looks to thwart Democrats eroding their supermajority in both chambers, which would allow vetoes from Gov. Laura Kelly to be sustained.
In an increasingly polarized state and national political environment, it is entirely possible the convention won’t have much effect on voter behavior.
But with Trump trailing in most national polls, Loomis said, the RNC could have been a chance to switch things up.
Whether that will hurt or help Trump in Kansas remains to be seen, he said.
"You’ll have some red-meat rhetoric but I’m not sure most people won’t (say), ’Oh there’s that’ and go on," Loomis said. "But when you’re trailing by nine points that’s not what you need. You need to shake things up."