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Chapman Rackaway: Pompeo vs. Tiahrt is the race to watch

  • Published Friday, May 30, 2014, at 6:13 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, June 1, 2014, at 6:43 a.m.

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Congress’ public approval rating could hardly get lower, hovering around 10 percent while disapproval numbers top 70 percent. Voters have been in a “throw the bums out” mood for years, yet incumbent re-election rates stay greater than 90 percent.

Primary challenges in other states have been unsuccessful in 2014, and Kansas probably will follow suit. Only one primary shows signs of being competitive. All eyes will be on Wichita in August, as a former congressman has entered the primary against his successor in what will be a bruising Republican primary.

In the 1st District, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, has his first competition since he won the 2010 Republican primary. Former legislator Kent Roth has withdrawn, leaving Alan LaPolice as Huelskamp’s sole Republican challenger. Huelskamp has made a national name for himself, but his removal from the House Agriculture Committee gives LaPolice an easy campaign message.

To be competitive, LaPolice will need to raise funds aggressively for the second quarter, having reported less than $20,000 for the first quarter of 2014. Roth’s withdrawal was a huge favor to LaPolice, because he will need all of the GOP anti-Huelskamp vote to overcome the incumbent’s significant in-district support. Jim Sherow and Bryan Whitney have entered the race as Democrats, but the heavy GOP registration advantage suggests that the only way Huelskamp loses is in a primary.

Although Democratic registration numbers in the 2nd District suggest the best odds for a Democratic challenger, Margie Wakefield’s novice status and limited resources do not suggest success. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, was able to convince a state senator to stay out of the primary, helping her focus on the general election. Like Huelskamp, Jenkins has a significant money advantage over her challenger. Wakefield has raised just $300,000, dwarfed by Jenkins’ $1.3 million on hand. Without money, no message or strategy can result in a victory.

The strongest Democratic challenge may be in the district most recently represented by a Democrat – the 3rd District in suburban Kansas City. Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Overland Park, has been the subject of embarrassing news in the past, and now he has a substantive challenger in former state legislator Kelly Kultala. Reggie Marselus has also filed, but Kultala’s statewide campaign experience and fundraising capacity make her the most likely nominee to face Yoder in November.

In the 4th District, Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, was set for a safe and easy re-election bid. But on Thursday former Rep. Todd Tiahrt decided to return to the campaign environment, turning a quiet primary season into a potential bloodbath. Whoever wins the expensive and doubtlessly nasty primary will be the favorite against Democrat Perry Schuckman.

A surefire re-election has now turned into the must-watch campaign of the primary.

Chapman Rackaway is a professor of political science at Fort Hays State University.

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