Kansas Republican Dave Lindstrom responded to maneuvering designed to convince him to quit the U.S. Senate race by proposing Tuesday that the chairman of the state’s Republican Party resign for trying to manipulate the outcome of the open primary.

Lindstrom, a former Johnson County commissioner and Kansas City Chiefs player, said Kansas Republicans deserved better leadership than that offered by state party chairman Mike Kuckelman. The chairman asked Lindstrom and Senate President Susan Wagle to drop out of the Senate campaign last week to help thwart the candidacy of former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

Kuckelman’s strategy was to clear space for U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, the 1st District Republican. Without Lindstrom and Wagle on the stage, a path for Marshall to overtake Kobach might be plausible.

"I don’t mind dust-ups," Lindstrom said. "I mind unethical behavior. I mind poor leadership."

Lindstrom said he asked during a telephone call Tuesday that Kuckleman step down from the Kansas GOP position. He said Kuckleman declined to quit.

Kobach also said in a statement that Kuckleman ought to step down as state party chairman. "I agree the chair should resign," Kobach said.

The opportunity to capture the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by retirement of Pat Roberts has drawn interest from Republicans and Democrats. The GOP is keen to retain Roberts’ seat because it has implications for holding the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate. Democrats see an opportunity to claim a Kansas seat in the U.S. Senate for the first time since Franklin Roosevelt was president.

The Kansas Republican Party didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about Lindstrom’s proposal.

Last week, Kansas GOP executive director Shannon Golden said the key in 2020 was to avoid nominating a flawed Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.

The objective is to avoid replicating in the U.S. Senate contest the 2018 defeat of Kobach by Laura Kelly, a Democrat who won the race for governor. The theory is Kobach could again be politically demonized in the November general election by Democrats such as state Sen. Barbara Bollier, who has outperformed Republicans in terms of raising campaign donations, or Manhattan City Commissioner Usha Reddi.

Golden said the state couldn’t "afford to make the same mistakes we did in 2018, and that is why we asked candidates with no viable path to victory to clear the field."

Kuckelman made that argument in letters sent to Wagle and Lindstrom. Both candidates rejected Kuckelman’s proposal.

Kobach said grassroots Republican voters should be outraged by Kuckelman’s attack on the three GOP candidates. The next senator from Kansas should be chosen by the people rather than a party boss, Kobach said.

Women active in Republican politics in Kansas say Kuckelman’s actions over the past year have grown from alarming to insulting.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Kuckelman, 58 women say his efforts to exclude Wagle from a U.S. Senate race "is a slap in the face to all Republican women." The letter says Republican women are the backbone of the party, knocking on doors, making phone calls, stuffing envelopes and contributing donations to candidates up and down the ballot.

The letter takes issue with Kuckelman’s omission of Wagle in a video tribute to Republican women at this year’s state party convention, despite including a former office holder who endorsed Kelly in the 2018 governor’s race.

When Kuckelman asked Wagle to exit the U.S. Senate race, the women said, his behavior "turned our alarm into personal insult."

"At a time when our party is searching for strong, conservative women to run for public office, your behavior is only discouraging us," the letter said. "Currently, Republican women represent only a fraction of seats in Congress, and our national leadership has put a commodity on cultivating strong women to diversify our representation."

They said Wagle broke the glass ceiling for women in Kansas by becoming the first woman to serve as House speaker pro tem and Senate president. Wagle deserves respect, they said, not "a back-handed letter," from the party chairman.

"Refrain from continuing to put the party’s thumb on the scale for your preferred candidate," the women told Kuckelman. "It is the role of us, the Republican voters of Kansas, to select our party’s nominee, not a party boss in Topeka and certainly not at the expense of insulting thousands of proud Republican women who have sacrificed for our party, election cycle after election cycle."

Golden, who served as spokeswoman for Wagle in the Statehouse before going to work for Kuckelman at the party office, said she was shocked by the insinuation that Kuckelman’s actions had anything to do with gender.

"I can say firsthand that Mike Kuckelman is the most empowering, most pro-life and most pro-woman boss that I've ever worked for," Golden said.

Wagle had a year to prove she belongs in the race, Golden said, but failed to secure the kind of support the party expects for its top candidate in a critical race.

"Nobody can deny that Senator Wagle is strong female leader in the state of Kansas," Golden said. "The conversations that happened last week were simply based on objective data — fundraising, polling."

Matt Beynon, an adviser for Wagle's U.S. Senate campaign, said Kuckelman’s behavior over the past year — in public and behind closed doors — has been "incredibly disappointing."

"We can understand why many loyal and hardworking Republican women would feel insulted by his conduct," Beynon said. "Republican voters can be assured that Susan Wagle will not allow one party boss’ behavior (to) keep her from fighting for conservative values and defeating Barbara Bollier this November."