- - Tuesday, April 29, 2014

There is a fight brewing in Kansas that reveals another side of the ongoing Republican civil war.

In most places, the GOP civil war involves the conservatives against the moderates. In Kansas, the civil war involves two conservative candidates and competing factions in the conservative movement and the Republican Party.

Sen. Pat Roberts is a fixture in Kansas politics and in Washington. He first came to Washington in 1967 as a congressional aide. He eventually ran for Congress in 1980 and for the Senate in 1996.

He is being challenged by Milton Wolf, who is perhaps most famous for being Barack Obama’s cousin. Wolf is a radiologist and an engaging and charismatic figure.

But this is not a story of a conservative challenger taking on a moderate, such as is happening in Mississippi, where Chris McDaniel is taking on Sen. Thad Cochran, or in Tennessee, where Joe Carr is taking on liberal Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Roberts is a solid conservative. He has a rating of 89 by the American Conservative Union and a 93 rating on the Heritage Action scorecard. The American Conservative Union has endorsed him, as have many elected Republicans in Kansas.

Wolf comes in with support from some tea party groups and the new Conservative Establishment. These groups include the Senate Conservative Fund, the Madison Project and Tea Party Express.

Sunday and Monday, the Tea Party Express held rallies in Kansas. Milton Wolf was at those rallies, as were a lot of his supporters. Though invited, Pat Roberts did not attend.

(Editorial note: I am on the Tea Party Express tour and am one of the speakers. I have not endorsed anyone in the Kansas race.)

Wolf made pointed attacks on Pat Roberts. Roberts has made some unforced errors in the campaign, including on the issue of where he lives. He says he rents a room in a house in Kansas, but when issues were raised about his residence, he made a joke that he has “full access to the recliner” in his rented room.

That has not played well in Kansas, and Wolf uses that to lampoon Roberts in campaign stops, putting a recliner and a set of golf clubs on the stage as props. Roberts also refuses to debate Wolf.

But Wolf’s lack of a voting record gives some conservatives pause. Roberts has his problems, including the issue of whether he actually lives in Kansas. But Roberts does have a solid conservative record.

Most polling gives Roberts a solid lead over Wolf. But unlike the Kentucky or Mississippi primaries that are coming up in a few weeks, Kansas’ primary is one of the last, on Aug. 5.

In a rally Monday, Wolf struck a conciliatory tone towards Roberts, asking the crowd to applaud and thank him for his years of service.

In many places, the tea party-Republican establishment civil war is turning bloody and bitter, and in some of those fights, if the establishment candidate wins, tea party supporters are going to walk and not support the nominee.

Perhaps Kansas is the unusual fight in that it pits two conservatives against each other. Conservatives in Kansas may be able to put their differences behind them after the primary and work together in November.

But for many states, where the establishment is trying a win at any cost strategy, the story may be a lot different and Kansas.

That may be the difference between winning the Senate and having the GOP blow it again.



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