Kansas Democrats excited about ex-GOP lawmaker's Senate bid

FILE - In this Feb. 13, 2019, file photo, state Sen. Barbara Bollier, D-Mission Hills, speaks during a meeting of Democratic senators at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Bollier is pitching herself as a voice of reason with a decade's worth of working with lawmakers from both parties (AP Photo/John Hanna File)
FILE - In this Feb. 13, 2019, file photo, state Sen. Barbara Bollier, D-Mission Hills, speaks during a meeting of Democratic senators at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Bollier is pitching herself as a voice of reason with a decade's worth of working with lawmakers from both parties (AP Photo/John Hanna File) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

TOPEKA, Kan. – Democrats are pinning their unusually high hopes for winning a U.S. Senate seat in Kansas for the first time in almost 90 years on a retired doctor and former Republican who vexed conservatives with her support for Medicaid expansion and abortion and LGBTQ rights.

State Sen. Barbara Bollier represents a Kansas City-area legislative district in the same cozy and affluent suburbs along the Missouri state line where she grew up. She's pitching herself as a “voice of reason” with a decade's worth of working with lawmakers from both parties.

As a moderate Republican, she bucked GOP leaders on abortion, health care, tax cuts and education funding. She angered conservatives two years ago by labeling as “sick discrimination” a measure protecting faith-based adoption agencies that don't place children in LGBTQ homes.

Democrats are enthusiastic about Bollier's chances of winning the open seat and helping them recapture a Senate majority even after western Kansas Rep. Roger Marshall won the Republican primary over polarizing conservative Kris Kobach. Bollier raised more money ahead of Tuesday's primary than the top GOP candidates combined and says she entered the fall campaign with $4.5 million in cash.

“A very sharp mind, but independent in her thinking,” said former state Rep. Tom Moxley, a moderate Republican and central Kansas rancher and farmer. “About as bright as they come.”

Many Democrats saw Kobach, a former Kansas secretary of state known nationally for advocating restrictive immigration policies, as the best opponent for Bollier because he has alienated moderate GOP voters. Republican leaders believe the establishment-backed Marshall can reunite the party and rebuild a campaign war chest that had dwindled to $600,000.

Bollier, who retired as an anesthesiologist in 1999, already has made health care a key issue. She's chiding Marshall for joining other top Kansas Republicans in opposing an expansion of the state's Medicaid health coverage for the needy and said she would build on the 2010 federal Affordable Care Act to expand Americans' health coverage.

“People are interested in someone who will work for commonsense solutions, work across the aisle and work for Kansas, not political parties,” Bollier, 62, said in an interview.