Mike Pompeo’s second campaign for the 4th Congressional District is nothing like his first one two years ago.
There was a contentious Republican primary in 2010, although he won his first political race fairly easily with 40 percent of the vote after pushing aside Jean Schodorf and Wink Hartman.
Pompeo punched his ticket to Washington, D.C., by collecting 56 percent of the vote to defeat well-known Democratic state legislator Raj Goyle in the general election. Both candidates ran high-profile campaigns and spent freely — $2.1 million for Pompeo; $1.9 million for Goyle.
Now comes 2012. Pompeo is running for re-election.
The 48-year-old Wichitan didn’t have any primary opposition. His Democratic opponent in the Nov. 6 election is Robert Tillman, who lost by more than a 4-to-1 margin to Goyle in the 2010 primary. The Libertarian candidate is Thomas Jefferson, who used to be Jack Talbert before legally taking the name of the nation’s third president earlier this year.
It’s been a quiet campaign.
Pompeo has been busy walking in parades, introducing himself to the district’s six new counties and part of another as the result of redistricting and staying in touch with his existing turf. But other than a scattering of yard signs, some mailers and an occasional small Pompeo billboard, there’s not much to remind you there is a race.
His filing with the Federal Election Commission shows he has spent about $560,000 on this campaign as of Sept. 30 — nearly a fourth less than in the 2010 campaign. Yet, Pompeo has kept his war chest well stocked, raising nearly $1.8 million.
While that may seem like a lot of money to pull in for a campaign when Pompeo isn’t being seriously challenged, Joe Aistrup said it makes sense.
“Part of the reason to have a war chest,” said Aistrup, a Kansas State University political science professor, “is to ward off competition – ‘I have 2 million in my back pocket. If you want to take me on, I’ll squash you like an ant.’ ”
Tillman has $31,000 cash on hand, including $25,000 he loaned to himself. Jefferson wasn’t required to file a report because he hadn’t spent or raised at least $500.
So is Pompeo building up his campaign’s bank account so he can run year after year?
“I’m running one more time at this point,” he said. “I don’t intend to do this forever.”
What he’d really like to do is get back to running his own business as he did with an aerospace company before going to Congress.
But right now, he said, he’d really like to help get America’s financial house in order.
“What I’m doing today is a mission,” Pompeo said. “When that’s accomplished, I’ll go back and do what I love doing.”
The reality of being in the House is that it takes a number of years before a congressman can truly move into a position of power, Aistrup said.
“Usually you have to be around eight, nine, 10 terms,” he said.
Democrat Dan Glickman served 18 years as the 4th District’s representative, followed by 16 years by Republican Todd Tiahrt. Aistrup said Tiahrt was just moving into a position of power when he decided in 2010 to run for the U.S. Senate, losing to Jerry Moran.
Moving up the ranks of power in the House can be slow, which wears on people who have been CEOs of their own companies and are used to being in charge, Aistrup said.
But hearing Pompeo talk about wanting to hang around to finish a mission “sounds like he’s open to being persuaded to running again,” Aistrup added.
On a mission
Despite the partisan bickering and a national debt of more than $16 trillion, Pompeo doesn’t see it as mission impossible.
“I do believe there’s a sense of American greatness,” he said. “Our country always has these wide ranges of views, and there’s lots of noise. But when the nation’s well being and security are on the line, Americans come together and find solutions.
“I’m optimistic we’ll get there.”
To do that, he said, Washington has to stick to the plan to cut $1.2 trillion in spending over the next decade. But he also said the Bush and payroll tax cuts need to be extended.
To get the economy growing and create jobs, Pompeo said, the government has to get out of the way and “let the risk-takers and American innovators provide the engine of growth.”
He pointed the finger at his own party for sometimes blocking the way. He said Republicans have allowed big companies to drive policy, especially on the regulatory side where rules help big businesses beat back competition from small companies.
“That’s an enormous mistake,” Pompeo said. “I intentionally avoid using the term pro-business because I don’t consider myself to be pro-business. I consider myself pro-free market.”
The free-market approach puts him in line with Charles Koch and Koch Industries, his biggest financial supporters and strong proponents of letting the free market rule.
Koch Industries has given Pompeo $90,000 — $80,000 from individuals and $10,000 from its political action committee — in 2011-12, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a campaign finance watchdog group.
But he wouldn’t go so far as to agree with those who say he’s the congressman from Koch.
“I don’t even know all the positions they’ve taken (outside economics),” Pompeo said. “But I am a true, free-market believer. I am deeply skeptical of the federal government’s ability to do good despite its best intentions. As I read the things Mr. Koch has written, those philosophies are pretty consistent with what I believe.”
Pompeo’s other top financial supporters are Mull Drilling, $21,500; Textron Inc., $16,000; Hawker Beechcraft, $15,000; and Ritchie Exploration, $15,000.
Among other givers to Pompeo are Spirit AeroSystems CEO and President Jeff Turner and his wife with $10,000 and businessman Bill Warren and his wife at $7,400.
Although oil and gas is Pompeo’s leading industry contributor — including Koch — with $236,750, he has called for an end to all federal energy subsidies.
Pompeo’s push to end the tax credit for wind energy has put him at odds with Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who wants the credits to continue and who supports a mandate that the state’s electric companies and larger co-ops buy a certain amount of wind energy by 2020.
“I don’t believe we should do either of those,” Pompeo said. “We’ve had only very short conversations about it. We’ve simply agreed that we have different views.”
He said the federal government has to continue to cut entitlement programs, repeal President Obama’s Affordable Health Care Act and create a federal tax code that is simpler, fairer and flatter to keep Washington from picking winners and losers.
In a study conducted earlier this year by the National Journal, Kansas’ four-member House delegation ranked as the most conservative congressional delegation in the country. Pompeo was rated not only the most conservative of the four but the 15th most conservative member of the House in 2011.
“We come from a pretty common-sense, leave-us-alone conservatism that’s a hallmark of Kansas,” he said when the study was released.
Tillman and Jefferson
Tillman, his Democrat opponent, has other ideas.
A 66-year-old retired court service worker, Tillman said he draws his inspiration to run from Congress from Obama.
“I want to be the first African-American ever elected to the U.S. Congress from Kansas,” he said.
Tillman thinks the federal government should play a major role in improving the economy. Job growth could be driven by legislation that would finance repairs and construction of the nation’s highways, creating more small-business loans and college and technical-education opportunities.
He said he will support strengthening Medicare and Social Security, but wouldn’t support raising the retirement age or reducing benefits.
Tillman sees the Republicans as more interested in working against Obama than in doing what is right for the country.
“That’s not their job,” he said. “Their job is just the opposite.”
He doesn’t seem himself as David trying to defeat Goliath.
“I don’t see Pompeo having the upper hand,” Tillman said. “I see him vulnerable because of the positions he’s taken. He doesn’t support women (because of his anti-abortion stance). He doesn’t support health care. And he’s not doing his job, which is to raise revenue to help America.”
Jefferson, the 43-year-old Libertarian, is running for office for the first time. He said he opted to legally change his name in May to Thomas Jefferson because “I wanted his name to appear on the ballot in the 4th District.”
“I want to bring the strength and sensibilities of Thomas Jefferson back to our congressional leadership,” said Jefferson, who repairs computer systems.
To erase the national debt, he said, 2011 should be used as the baseline year for budget consideration and all federal spending should be cut by 4 percent for five years.
He would create jobs by giving companies tax credits for hiring American workers and tax penalties for outsourcing jobs where Americans could be hired. Workforce investment programs need to be created to help people become small-business owners, Jefferson said.
The Abilene native and his wife, Santana Marie Talbert, moved to Wichita from Manhattan about 15 months ago after she finished graduate work at Kansas State University. She is running as a Libertarian in the state House District 87 race.
If he should lose the election, he said, he’ll probably keep the name Thomas Jefferson, although he noted that old friends still call him Jack Talbert. He’s already changed his driver’s license and passport to Jefferson.
“I’d have to invest money to reverse it,” he said. “I like the name. There’s really no reason to change.”