WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - A Republican primary battle between a congressman and his longtime predecessor has deeply divided social conservatives in Wichita, a city that for years has been a flashpoint in the national fight over abortion rights.
Kansans for Life’s political action committee endorsed U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo in the state’s 4th Congressional District. That angered some of its own members, who argued the group also should recognize in its election materials former Congressman Todd Tiahrt for his longtime anti-abortion activism.
During a rally Friday, another conservative group, the Kansas Republican Assembly, announced its endorsement of Tiahrt for his unwavering anti-abortion advocacy and vowed to put flyers in every church in Wichita to counter the election guides put out by Kansans for Life.
Tiahrt served 16 years in the House before resigning in 2010 for an unsuccessful GOP primary run for the U.S. Senate and Pompeo was elected to replace him.
The primary is Aug. 5. With both candidates staunch abortion foes, it hasn’t been much of an issue on the campaign trail. However, the abortion question often has been pivotal in south-central Kansas since the 1991 “Summer of Mercy” protests led to more than 2,700 arrests in Wichita.
Three years after those demonstrations, Tiahrt ousted then-congressman Dan Glickman, an abortion-rights Democrat who had held the seat for 18 years. Glickman later attributed the loss largely to Tiahrt’s grassroots support among an anti-abortion community energized by the Summer of Mercy protests.
On Friday, Tiahrt tried to tap into that fervor once again with an anti-abortion rally at his campaign headquarters.
“I hope we can all get together and see if we can make another miracle happen,” David Gittrich, state development director for Kansans for Life, told the nearly 100 people who attended.
Tiahrt told the activists and pastors who came to the campaign event that in 1990, “it wasn’t very popular to be pro-life.”
The entire Kansas delegation in Washington currently opposes abortion rights - an accomplishment Tiahrt told the crowd is a “real tribute” to them.
Pompeo’s campaign has touted the support he has received from anti-abortion groups, saying in an emailed statement that Pompeo is proud that he is the only candidate in the race endorsed by Kansans for Life, the National Right to Life Council, the Family Research Council’s ActionPAC, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life, said that while the group endorsed Pompeo months before Tiahrt announced his candidacy, it stands behind the endorsement now because of its policy to always endorse an anti-abortion incumbent. If Tiahrt wins the GOP primary, she said, Kansans for Life would endorse Tiahrt in the general election.
The Kansas Republican Assembly decided to endorse Tiahrt because of his longtime support of its efforts to pass anti-abortion bills in the state Legislature, something which Pompeo has hesitated to do, said Mark Gietzen, president of the group.
“Pompeo is pro-life by convenience; Todd Tiahrt is pro-life by conviction,” Gietzen said.
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