Top Republican candidates hit Topeka on Tuesday as part of a statewide bus tour designed to make their case to voters ahead of some historically competitive races next month.
The event drew a few dozen attendees to a parking lot in downtown Topeka. Most of those in attendance wore masks, as candidates appeared mindful about President Donald Trump’s recent COVID-19 diagnosis.
In his remarks, Marshall called COVID-19 the "China virus," mirroring Trump’s inflammatory language regarding the pandemic, but afterward urged residents to wear masks.
Marshall has been criticized by his opponent, Democratic state Sen. Barbara Bollier, for holding campaign events where attendees didn’t wear masks, although the congressman said his campaign had held outdoor events whenever possible and encouraged facial coverings.
"I think everyone should respect the virus," Marshall said. "I think everybody should wear a mask when they can, keep the physical distance, wash their hands, all those types of things as well."
In response to a voter who approached Marshall and the gaggle of reporters, berating them for wearing a mask, he reiterated his stance that mask mandates weren’t the right way to proceed.
"A lot of Kansans have a streak of libertarian in them," Marshall said with a smile.
While State Treasurer Jake LaTurner, the Republican nominee in the 2nd Congressional District, said he has been going to in-person events throughout the district, he also underscored the need for caution in light of Trump’s diagnosis.
"I think that people need to act in their best interests," LaTurner said in an interview after the event.
Most of the proceedings, however, were focused on topics other than the coronavirus, with most of the attention focusing on the impending confirmation vote for Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court.
While the spread of COVID-19 among several members of the U.S. Senate has delayed a potential vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee is slated to consider Barrett’s credentials to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg later this month.
Even though Barrett is from Louisiana, speakers at the event Tuesday praised her as a good match for what Kansans wanted in a justice.
"She is clearly somebody who represents Kansas values," former Gov. Jeff Colyer said. "She is clearly somebody that is on the side of looking at the Constitution and following those rules."
Robert Johnannson, a local Republican official in Topeka, said he thought the fight over the judiciary in Washington, D.C., would resonate in Kansas.
"I hope it energizes the conservative, evangelical vote," he said.
The proceedings had a surprise guest in former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, who called in to urge the crowd to vote for Republicans up and down the ticket.
But he spent most of his time urging voters to pay attention to the U.S. Senate race.
"Let’s keep the Bob Dole seat Republican," he said.
The rally comes a day after a left-leaning group announced it would pump $7.5 million into TV and digital ads in support of Bollier as experts project a close race.
While Kansas hasn’t elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1932, recent internal polling from both the Bollier and Marshall campaigns show a single-digit race.
But speakers at the GOP tour stop said outside spending from the left would fall short.
"The Democrats are spending enormous resources here in Kansas," LaTurner said. "This is not a purple state, am I right? This is a red state. We're gonna prove it on Nov. 3."
LaTurner is locked in a battle of his own with Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla after defeating incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Watkins in the August primary.
While the race is viewed as competitive, LaTurner is still regarded as the favorite and he expressed confidence that he would have a strong showing in Shawnee County, which Democrat Paul Davis claimed in 2018 even as he lost to Watkins.
"Our tact is to show that this is a choice election," he said. "There is a distinct choice between myself and the mayor of Topeka."
With the voter registration deadline looming next Tuesday, attendees were encouraged to ensure they had done their due diligence in ensuring that family and friends were able to vote.
And while concerns about election integrity have been fanned by Trump, largely without evidence, Secretary of State Scott Schwab said voters need not fear issues in Kansas.
"Because we have a Republican worldview, we're going to have a good election in Kansas," Schwab said. "And you don't have to worry about this rampant fraud in Kansas because we do our job."