Despite seemingly deep rifts in Republican philosophy, incumbents across the conservative spectrum fend off challengers despite close races.

Incumbents hold off challengers from all sides

By Christopher Guinn

Dodge City Daily Globe

Challenges from the tea-tossing side of the Republican Party were as equally rebuffed as those coming from establishment candidates as incumbents in several close primary races throughout the state held off opponents.

Though many races were closer than would have been expected at the start of the election season, Kansas Republicans continued to support their current representatives in the deeply red state regardless of intra-party affiliation.

Sen. Pat Roberts defeated tea party-favorite Milton Wolf who criticized the sitting senator for a lack of conservative zeal and lack of connection to the state he represents. Roberts' campaign ran ads against Wolf's character after the discovery x-ray images of fatal gunshots posted to his personal Facebook page, painting him as unethical and unelectable in a general election.

Roberts took 48 percent of the vote to Wolf's 41 percent. D.J. Smith and Alvin Zahnter received 5 percent and 6 percent, respectively.

Once the race was called, Roberts gave prepared remarks in Overland Park where his campaign and supporters joined those of Gov. Sam Brownback.

"This was a Kansas election, decided by Kansas Republicans," the senator said. "Tonight we reaffirmed what we all knew: we are Kansas-loving, conservative Republicans and we are in charge of our own future."

"I am not going to even try to thank all of you here tonight who worked so hard for this victory. Thank you for being willing to ride with a Dodge City cowboy and thank you for your courage on the front lines when the opposition lobbed grenades at you personally," he told supporters.

Kansas has not elected a Democrat to the northern wing of the U.S. Capitol building since the 1932 re-election of George McGill, and Roberts November race against Chad Taylor does not seem as though it will buck the trend. However, independent candidate Greg Orman may provide a potential threat to the long-serving incumbent.

"We all know that voters are fed up with the partisan bickering and finger pointing that has Washington tied in political knots. I have the highest hopes that this U.S. Senate race will be focused on the critical issues facing this nation and not on petty personal attacks that seek to divide us," Orman wrote, digging at the negative Republican primary campaign.

From the other side of the Republican political spectrum, 1st District Congressman Tim Huelskamp defeated Alan LaPolice in a race relatively close for a primary. Huelskamp took 55 percent of the vote to retain the Republican nomination.

Soon after the election, Huelskamp wrote to his campaign's Facebook page that "Angela and I are deeply thankful for your support, prayers and vote. Our victory demonstrated that - despite the most vicious political attacks in Kansas history - we can stand on principle and win."

He also received congratulations from the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, a Washington-based political action committee that also ran ads against Roberts.

"Facing a well-funded Establishment opponent bent on preserving corporate welfare, Tim refused to back down," the funds director, Jenny Beth Martin said. "He opposed an $800 billion food stamp expenditure called a 'farm bill,' the consequences notwithstanding. Tim is a true champion for fiscal responsibility and constitutionally-limited government, and we congratulate him on a hard-fought victory."

LaPolice, like the Democratic nominee Jim Sherow, attacked Huelskamp as being too extreme to meet the needs of the west Kansas constituency. In particular, Huelskamp's ouster from the House Committee on Agriculture and opposition to the federal farm bill were heavily cited as examples of Huelskamp's ineffectiveness in the body of 435 representatives. Huelskamp has however maintained the support of other tea party conservatives like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, one of the most powerful figures in the movement, and with the primary results, 1st District Republican voters.

Though Sherow faces an uphill battle in the strongly Republican west Kansas district, he believes moderate Republicans would prefer a moderate Democrat than a controversial member of the tea party caucus.

"Going forward, all of us realize that the heart and soul of Kansas are at stake in this election.  Government is not the problem; politicians like my opponent, Mr. Huelskamp, are the problem. As one of the loudest Tea Party voices in Congress, he is responsible for much of the legislative gridlock currently crippling our country," Sherow said in a statement following his party's nomination.

Mike Pompeo, the incumbent Republican congressman representing the state's 4th District, defeated challenger and predecessor Todd Tiahrt in another win for incumbency. Both candidates ran on platforms of being the most conservative. Pompeo managed to out-fundraise his opponent by an order of magnitude and also received the backing of the big-dollar conservative political action committee, the Club for Growth.

Pompeo beat Tiahrt by a vote count of about 2-to-1.

Incumbency and the help of a dominating win in her home county of Ford — one of the largest counties in the district — also protected 5th District Kansas Board of Education Republican candidate Sally Cauble in the low-intensity, single-issue race against Meg Wilson. Cauble, a moderate on the education board, was targeted for her support of the Kansas version of the Common Core educational standards known as the Kansas College and Career Ready Standards.

Wilson ran in opposition to Common Core standards, framing them as a top-down takeover of local education control. Cauble defended her support for the standards and attempted to reverse perceptions of the widely politicized standards that were created by a coalition of state governments and have since been embraced by the Obama administration.

Cauble took 55 percent of the vote district-wide and 80 percent of the vote in Ford County.

Before the race, Cauble said a loss to moderates on the state education board would lead back to debates about teaching creationism in the schools and not preparing students for the technology- and science-rich world after graduation.

Cauble is expected to win her third term on the board representing west Kansas as no Democrat is registered to compete.

Likewise, incumbent Secretary of State Kris Kobach easily defeated opponent Scott Morgan who focused on similar issues of Democratic nominee Jean Schodorf, particularly his focus on voter identification and national arena politics.

Kobach won by a ratio of about 2-to-1.