Politics & Government

O’Donnell says he was asked not to attend Pompeo rally

State senator candidate Michael O'Donnell celebrates his birthday, which was the day before, with supporters during his campaign party at Hanger One Steakhouse Tuesday. (Aug. 7, 2012)
State senator candidate Michael O'Donnell celebrates his birthday, which was the day before, with supporters during his campaign party at Hanger One Steakhouse Tuesday. (Aug. 7, 2012) The Wichita Eagle

At a rally Thursday in Wichita, U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo said the conservative victory in the primary shows that Kansas voters want limited government. He told two dozen House and Senate conservative Republican candidates who shared the stage with him that he wanted to help them “make Kansas a model for what we can try and do in Washington, D.C.”

Two days after conservative Republicans essentially erased their party’s moderate wing from any meaningful role in state government, one of the new conservative victors, Michael O’Donnell, confirmed that he was asked to stay away from the celebration rally sponsored by Pompeo.

O’Donnell said that a high-ranking Republican Party operative who is close to Gov. Sam Brownback called him Wednesday afternoon and told him not to attend. O’Donnell would not identify the party official, but said the caller told him he was passing along the message at Pompeo’s request. O’Donnell, now a Wichita City Council member, is one of the rising stars of the conservative takeover of the state Senate, which had been the last stronghold of Republican moderates. He soundly beat moderate Sen. Jean Schodorf in one of the highest-profile Republican primaries in Pompeo’s 4th Congressional District.

Representatives for Pompeo said they didn’t know why O’Donnell didn’t attend the rally at Pompeo’s campaign office. O’Donnell’s name was not on a list of attendees that the Pompeo campaign handed out at the event.

“My race is important to the party. It’s stunning I would not be asked to attend the unity rally,” O’Donnell said. “I am focusing on my own race, but I guess I have a different definition of unity. … I’ve never heard of anything like this.”

O’Donnell worked as a spokesman for the congressional campaign of Wink Hartman, who ran against Pompeo in a hard-fought and largely negative GOP primary in 2010. O’Donnell remains employed by Hartman, who has large business holdings in oil, restaurants and professional sports.

O’Donnell will face the Democratic nominee, political newcomer Timothy Snow, in the Nov. 6 general election.

O’Donnell did get a boost from another Republican congressman, Kansas 1st District Rep. Tim Huelskamp.

"With the primary over, it is time for all Republicans to move beyond petty politics and unite behind our conservative platform and candidates,” Huelskamp said in an e-mail. “I endorsed Michael O’Donnell in the primary, because he has the courage and willingness to stand by conservative values. That is the kind of leadership we desperately need both in Topeka and in Washington."

At the rally, Pompeo urged the state candidates to win in November by continuing to spread the Republican message of limited government.

Among the attendees were House candidates Larry Alley, Rep. Benny Boman, Rep. Steve Brunk, Tim Garvey, Dan Hawkins, Rep. Dennis Hedke, Dan Heflin, Rep. Kyle Hoffman, Mark Hutton, Rep. Kasha Kelley, Rick Lindsey, Rep. Les Osterman, Rep. Joe Seiwert, John Stevens, Rep. Gene Suellentrop and Jack Thimesch.

Senate candidates who attended included Sen. Steve Abrams, Rep. Mitch Holmes, Rep. Dan Kerschen, Rep. Forrest Knox, Jeff Melcher and Sen. Susan Wagle.

Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer also attended.

“We’ve accomplished a lot as Republicans so far, but we’ve got a lot more to do,” Colyer said.

Pompeo praised Brownback and the governors of Wisconsin and Louisiana for what they’ve accomplished in the past two years. He said they needed all the candidates who were with him to win “so that they can continue that march” toward growing businesses and creating jobs.

While there will be a lot of talk about the Republican Party having moved too far to the right, Pompeo told the gathering, voters on Tuesday showed that they want common-sense, reasonable regulations, and candidates who understand education and health care.

“Big-government solutions always fail,” he said.

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