Sen. Pat Roberts has represented Kansas for decades, but his GOP primary opponent hopes voters who go to the polls on Tuesday care more about Mr. Roberts’ other home in Virginia.
Milton Wolf, the challenger and distant cousin of President Obama, has accused Mr. Roberts of spending more time in Northern Virginia then in Kansas, which the 78-year-old has represented in Congress since he was first elected to the House in 1981.
Kansas is one of the last two chances where tea party and other GOP insurgent groups have a hope of unseating a sitting senator in a Republican primary. The other opportunity comes Thursday in Tennessee when two-term Sen. Lamar Alexander, 74, tries to fend of a challenge from state Rep. Joe Carr.
“So far, incumbent senators of both parties who have run for renomination are a perfect 18 for 18 in primaries,” said Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “Roberts and Alexander appear to be favorites, even though tea party groups in both states back the challengers. Of the two, Mr. Roberts is probably more vulnerable to an upset: He’s run a subpar campaign and has really suffered from questions about his residency in Kansas.”
Last month, Mr. Roberts provided more fodder for the attacks against him, saying, “Every time I get an opponent — I mean, every time I get a chance, I’m home.”
But Mr. Wolf also has baggage. He scored numerous headlines after posting gruesome X-ray images on Facebook and making off-color remarks about them — opening him up to criticism from the Roberts camp and its allies.
Polling has shown the race tightening.
Voters on Tuesday also will head to the polls in Missouri, Washington and Michigan, with that latter state offering several major GOP primaries for House seats.
Libertarian-leaning Rep. Justin Amash is running for a third term in Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District against Brian Ellis, a wealthy investor who has the backing of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In the 11th District Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, a reindeer farmer, is running for a second term against real estate attorney David Trott.
“The Michigan congressional primaries don’t fit neatly into the typical Republican primary box,” said Nathan Gonzales, of the Rothenberg Political Report. “In the 3rd District, the incumbent is the anti-establishment candidate trying to fend off an establishment challenger. That’s not how these races usually play out.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Bentivolio has been labeled the “accidental congressman” because he won the seat after the incumbent, then-Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, failed to secure enough signatures to make the ballot in 2012.
In the Senate races, meanwhile, tea party groups say the challengers have a path to victory based on their commitment to core issues such as repealing Obamacare and opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants.
Kevin Broughton, spokesman for Tea Party Patriots, said Mr. Alexander’s support of a 2013 immigration bill that offered a pathway to citizenship to illegal immigrants has soured Tennessee voters.
“That is like putting out a welcome mat for illegal immigrants, and the human wave of criminality and disease you see on the Rio Grande is a direct result of the open borders policy that Lamar Alexander has supported,” Mr. Broughton said. “We certainly want to make the race a referendum on immigration.”
The winners of the GOP primaries in the Kansas and Tennessee are expected to cruise to victory in the November election.