TOPEKA — Wink Hartman could be taking a second run at the 4th District congressional seat — this time as a Libertarian.
Hartman, who finished third in the Republican primary in August, met with Libertarian party leaders by phone Tuesday evening to discuss the possibility of his running in November.
"Unless there are some serious red flags on our part, or there are serious red flags on his part, the likelihood of his becoming the candidate is very favorable," said Kansas Libertarian Party Chairman Andrew Gray.
A decision is likely Friday, when party leaders will meet again after talking to local constituents.
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Hartman, a Wichita oil, sports and restaurant entrepreneur, captured 23 percent of the vote in an acrimonious Republican primary last month. Winner Mike Pompeo had 39 percent while state Sen. Jean Schodorf had 24 percent.
The Pompeo and Hartman campaigns did not return phone calls asking for comment.
If Hartman does switch parties and appear on the ballot in November, Democratic candidate Raj Goyle could wind up benefiting the most, said Ken Ciboski, political science professor at Wichita State University.
The campaign between Hartman and Pompeo "got pretty vicious," Ciboski said, and there appears to be lingering bitterness. Hartman could also supply an infusion of visibility and money that could help the Libertarian Party overall, he said.
Republicans are looking at the possible party switch as an attempt to overturn the primary results, said Sherriene Jones-Sontag, spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback's gubernatorial campaign.
"The main concern is that this would be overturning a Republican primary where more than 80,000 Republican voters cast their ballots," she said.
Brownback campaign manager David Kensinger has talked to Hartman's former campaign manager Scott Paradise, but Jones-Sontag said she did not know what was discussed.
Pompeo, Goyle and Susan G. Ducey, a Reform Party candidate from Wichita, are all candidates for the seat being vacated by Republican Congressman Todd Tiahrt.
David Moffett of Bel Aire was the Libertarian candidate; he withdrew his name last week because of health concerns, Gray said.
State statute allows candidates to withdraw by filing a notarized statement saying they are "incapable of fulfilling the duties of office."
When that happens, the party may nominate another candidate.
Tyler Longpine, spokesman for Kansas Secretary of State Chris Biggs, said it isn't clear whether Hartman can run as a third-party candidate. The department has not examined the issue because no objection has been filed.
Kiel Brunner, Goyle's campaign manager, said all candidates should have the right to run for office.
Gray said Hartman already embraces most of the fiscal and social ideas of the Libertarian Party, which pushes for limited government in people's lives and interactions.
"It was very favorable on both sides," Gray said of Tuesday's meeting with Hartman. "He answered the questions to all of our liking, even the purists."
The last Libertarian to run for the 4th District congressional seat was Steve Rosile of Wichita, who got 1.9 percent of the vote in the 2008 election. No Kansas Libertarian congressional candidate got more than 2.8 percent of the vote that year.
Gray, who is also the party's gubernatorial candidate, said he thought that Kansans were already looking for an alternative to the major parties.
"A lot of Kansans, just by our sheer nature, are Libertarian. They just don't realize it yet because they don't realize there is a viable third option," he said.
Hartman — if he is a good fit for the party's ideals — could provide the exposure that would move the Libertarians into major party status, Gray said.
But jumping into the race could make Hartman's future in the Republican Party questionable, Ciboski said.
"I don't know if he has any ambition to run in the future as a Republican but this could damage his future prospects," he said.