Martin Hawver: Where is state GOP headed?

01/22/2014 12:00 AM

01/21/2014 5:43 PM

This weekend may be when we get our first pretty solid feel for just which direction the Kansas Republican Party is headed: conservative or way, way conservative. The event is Republican Kansas Day. This year the annual GOP convention is being held in Wichita.

The real test here: How U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, who has been a GOP icon since the Earth cooled enough to walk on, and tea party Republican Milton Wolf of Leawood, who hopes to unseat Roberts in the Republican primary, work the Republican activist crowd.

This could have been a simple pulse-taking – count the number of Republican activists at each reception, watch their general demeanor, and make a comparison. But Republicans of late don’t make these things simple.

Wolf, a radiologist who is a distant cousin of President Obama, will have a reception from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday at the Hyatt Regency, where the convention is being held. It’ll be one of seven conventional walk-around receptions.

Roberts, who has traditionally sponsored the after-Saturday-dinner reception for those Republicans who spend the money for the convention’s dinner gala, will see a crowd that has thinned considerably, making a nose-count probably inaccurate.

So it’s going to be a weekend of watching Roberts and Wolf react with the several hundred Republicans who hang out together on the party’s biggest weekend of the year.

There aren’t enough regular attendees of Kansas Day to move the vote in a primary election. But those Kansas Day activists tend to be the GOP leaders in their communities, the people Republican voters see in the coffee shops and grocery stores and who can move votes.

After the weekend, we’ll maybe have a feeling for whether Roberts – who, like most Republicans, tends to get more conservative, or at least more loudly conservative, in election years – is as far to the right as Kansans are willing to go.

Remember, chances are slim that either former Sens. Nancy Landon Kassebaum or Bob Dole could make it through a Republican primary election now.

This could be the start of a party-rending contest, which is probably a dab uncomfortable for many Republicans. And it’s a chance for Democrats – who pay close attention to whether the GOP is moving further to the right than many Kansans might be comfortable with – to dream of picking up some Republican votes.

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