Politics & Government

Tea party activist Milton Wolf will challenge Sen. Pat Roberts in Kansas

U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas now has a tea party opponent.

Leawood radiologist Milton Wolf, 42, announced Tuesday evening that he will oppose the veteran lawmaker in next year’s Republican primary.

Wolf made the announcement before 300 cheering supporters at the Ritz Charles in south Overland Park.

“Senator Roberts, we’re here to tell you that it’s time for a change,” he said, later adding, “No one should be in the Congress for four decades.”

Roberts began serving in the House in 1981 and started in the Senate in 1997.

In a statement, Roberts’ campaign manager, Leroy Towns, said the incumbent is ready for the challenge.

“Dr. Wolf will have many questions to answer regarding his position on major issues,” Towns said. “Because he is unknown to most Kansas Republicans, he also will need to answer important questions regarding his qualifications, his medical business, including patient privacy issues and the extent his business relies on government payments.”

Wolf — a cousin of President Barack Obama — is well known among conservatives and tea party activists. He has been mentioned on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show, has appeared on various Fox News programs and writes a conservative-leaning column.

He now becomes the latest challenger to a GOP senator. In 2012, several tea party activists took on more established Republican candidates, with varying degrees of success.

Wolf’s primary challenge resembles similar decisions by Republicans in other states — some successful, some not.

In 2012, Richard Mourdock upset Sen. Richard Lugar in Indiana, but Mourdock eventually lost the general election to Democrat Joe Donnelly.

U.S. Rep. Todd Akin was generally considered the most conservative candidate in a three-person field in Missouri’s 2012 GOP primary for the U.S. Senate, and he won his party’s nomination. But he lost in November to Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat.

In 2014, a tea party candidate will challenge Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican. Sen. Lindsey Graham, also a Republican, faces a tea party opponent in South Carolina’s primary.

Many mainstream GOP activists worry that tea party challengers like Wolf will cost incumbents time and money that might be better spent battling Democratic opponents, or used to shore up candidacies in other states.

It isn’t clear whether Wolf’s candidacy poses a significant problem for Roberts, who so far has not drawn a serious Democratic challenger.

Roberts, 77, is expected to be well financed. He had almost $1.5 million in his campaign bank account at the end of June, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“It’s hard to imagine Roberts being seriously tested by Mr. Wolf,” said Burdett Loomis, a political science professor at the University of Kansas.

Loomis also pointed to Roberts’ long list of endorsements from Kansas Republicans, including Gov. Sam Brownback, all four U.S. House members and U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran.

Wolf downplayed that backing Tuesday.

“I seek your endorsement,” he told the crowd.

In his speech, Wolf sharply criticized Roberts for his votes to raise the federal debt limit and to confirm the nomination of former Kansas governor Kathleen Sebelius to be health and human services secretary.