What could be more Kansas than building airplanes and raising cattle?
Paij Rutschman does both.
And she could be the X factor in the Republican primary in the 4th Congressional District.
Recent polls show that only about 1 percent of the electorate supports her candidacy.
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But with fellow candidates Wink Hartman and Mike Pompeo running too close to call, and Jean Schodorf on their heels, a percentage point or two could loom large come Election Day on Aug. 3.
Rutschman, an avionics engineer with Boeing and a rancher in the small town of Latham, acknowledges that she probably made a strategic mistake entering the race as late as she did.
By the time she jumped in in May, other candidates had been in a year or more.
"I've got a late start in the race, and my name recognition is very low at this point," she said. "However, I appreciate the opportunity to talk with various media organizations to start getting my name out in front of the public."
She said her campaign will be "a lot of campaign signs, a lot of getting out and talking to people. Unless the money starts rolling in, I doubt if I'll be doing any television advertising."
She blamed her late start on her lack of political experience.
Rutschman is literally a by-the-book candidate. Specifically, "The Campaign Manual: A Definitive Study of the Modern Political Campaign Process" by author Sal Guzzetta.
Rutschman said she initially tried to get some guidance on how to campaign from state and national Republican organizations.
"I basically did not get a response at all," she said.
So she bought Guzzetta's book and read it. Then, she said, she contacted the author and has been consulting with him ever since.
"He is my political adviser," she said.
Path to Wichita
Rutschman was born in Fort Worth, but moved around a lot growing up.
"My dad was in the Navy," she said. "He was at Pearl Harbor during the attack. He was a radio officer and was actually the one who radioed out to all the submarines that were off the Hawaiian coast that Pearl Harbor was under attack and not to approach, to submerge."
After the war, he became an aerospace manager for Boeing, working with NASA on space projects.
Rutschman said she lived in New Mexico, Virginia, Washington and Texas, and went to college at Baylor University. She emerged with a degree in business administration, with a minor in English and a teaching certificate.
She taught elementary and middle school in the Texas Hill Country for about eight years.
"I'm a strong advocate of the educational system and how important it is to America's youth," she said. "That is something that we really need to focus on, making sure that our young people are able to compete in a global marketplace."
But she decided she wanted to do something different, so she joined her parents in Wichita, where they had moved for a job with Boeing.
Rutschman also got hired on at Boeing as an engineering aide, which piqued her interest in engineering.
She enrolled at Wichita State University and earned a degree in 1990 in electrical engineering, with a computer science minor.
After college, engineering jobs were hard to find, and she worked a series of part-time jobs with small businesses.
"It gave me an opportunity to see the issues that they had to face as far as making a living and turning a profit, and it was very interesting," she said. "It was a good part of my life."
She landed an avionics design job at Cessna Aircraft in 1994 and then moved to Boeing in 1995, where she's been working as an engineer ever since.
Her husband wanted to get involved in ranching, so they bought some property near Latham, she said. Now, they are building up a herd of black angus and hereford cattle.
Search for solutions
Rutschman approaches political issues with an engineer's eye — figure out the problem, come up with ideas for solutions, pick the best one and do it.
"As engineers, we take very large, very complex problems and we resolve them," she said.
She's troubled by the polarization that divides American politics and says Congress especially could use a little more of an engineering outlook.
"From the outside looking in, Congress is broken," she said. "What the country needs is both parties working together for the good of the country. I believe you can do that without giving up your point of view."
The biggest issue is the economy, Rutschman said.
And in contrast to most of her opponents, she thinks the federal stimulus spending has done some good, mostly by rescuing embattled state governments.
"If it created jobs and helped budget shortfalls here in Kansas, through the education system (and road projects), that's all good, but we need to do more than that," she said.
"No. 1, we need to create jobs," she said.
To do that, she wants the U.S. to innovate its way out of recession. As part of that, she proposes reforming the system of patenting inventions and protecting intellectual property rights.
"We need to get more patents into our system to protect our technology so that America becomes more of a technical center — at one point, we were," she said. "It seems we have lost a lot of that entrepreneurialism.
"The current patent system has a lot of red tape, and I think it is difficult to get the patents established and it just has a lot of issues," she said.
She also wants to extend the terms of patents beyond the 20 years that is generally the rule.
Taxes and consumer confidence are also areas Rutschman thinks need some work.
"Cut down on the expense that's required to run the federal government, we can therefore reduce our federal taxes and put more money into the taxpayer's pocket," she said.
That, in turn, will help spur consumer spending and help revive the economy, she said.
"Initially people were hit pretty hard when the economy took a downturn," she said. "Initially the taxpayer is going to try to replenish that money that they lost."
Things won't really turn around until people can "pay off their debt and get caught up," she said. "Then, in the economy they'll start spending more and their consumption will go up."