Politics & Government

Conservative PAC behind poll testing Trump-linked lobbyist against Kansas congressman

Matt and Mercedes Schlapp: He is chairman of the American Conservative Union, and she is director of strategic communications at the White House, at home in Alexandria, Va., April 5, 2018. The couple are the most visible in the city’s cadre of conservative Republicans who, faced with a populist Trump juggernaut, chose to scramble aboard.
Matt and Mercedes Schlapp: He is chairman of the American Conservative Union, and she is director of strategic communications at the White House, at home in Alexandria, Va., April 5, 2018. The couple are the most visible in the city’s cadre of conservative Republicans who, faced with a populist Trump juggernaut, chose to scramble aboard. The New York Times

A Washington-based super PAC was behind the recent phone poll that asked Kansas GOP voters to choose between Rep. Roger Marshall and a lobbyist with connections to President Donald Trump in a possible Senate primary.

The Club For Growth PAC touted Wednesday the results of a poll testing American Conservative Union chair Matt Schlapp against Marshall, a Republican who represents western Kansas, in the race to replace retiring Republican Sen. Pat Roberts next year.

Schlapp said last week that he had no involvement in the poll, but confirmed his interest in the race if a conservative standard-bearer doesn’t emerge. Marshall is weighing a run, but hasn’t yet decided.

In a statement, the Club For Growth presented Schlapp as the best option if Secretary of State Mike Pompeo doesn’t enter the race. Pompeo, a Wichita Republican, has repeatedly downplayed his interest in the race despite a public recruitment campaign from national Republicans.

“If Secretary Mike Pompeo does not run for the Republican nomination for the Kansas seat in the U.S. Senate, Matt Schlapp’s conservative credentials and support of President Trump make him well positioned to win the nomination,” Club for Growth PAC President David McIntosh said.

The Club for Growth, which advocates for tax cuts and lower government spending, was co-founded in 1999 by Stephen Moore, an economist and key adviser to former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and President Donald Trump on tax cut plans.

Major contributors to the group’s political action committee last election include Illinois shipping magnate and GOP megadonor Richard Uihlein and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.

Schlapp said on Twitter that he was gratified by the poll, but stressed that his focus was on his current duties as chair of the American Conservative Union.

“President Trump is literally changing Washington as we know it and I will continue to play a meaningful role in that effort, no matter what we decide to do in this race or in the future,” he said.

The Star reported on a phone poll floating Schlapp’s name for the seat. Descriptions of the two candidates provided in the polling memo are nearly identical to audio of the phone poll obtained by the newspaper. Schlapp said last week he had no involvement in the poll.

Schlapp, a Wichita native who is married to a senior White House aide, is described in the memo as a “leading conservative voice, and Fox News political commentator” and “one of the strongest defenders of President Trump.”

In the audio Marshall is described as an OB-GYN and member of the House Agriculture Committee. After the candidates’ biographies were read, 49 percent of voters preferred Schlapp compared to 41 percent for Marshall and 10 percent who were undecided.

The poll was conducted by WPA Intelligence, a Washington-based pollster, on behalf of the Club For Growth PAC. The survey of likely GOP primary voters was conducted between June 3 to 6 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4%, according to the polling memo.

Marshall did not immediately comment Wednesday, but Marshall’s pollster Robert Blizzard panned the poll’s methodology.

“I think it’s all pretty ludicrous,” said Blizzard, partner in Public Opinion Strategies which handled polling for Marshall’s U.S. House campaigns. “This is a poll that’s conducted solely for the purposes of a short releasable memo, to try and garner press attention and get somebody in a race… It’s a sales tool.”

In the audio obtained by The Star, voters were first asked to choose between the candidates based on their names alone, but the polling memo does not disclose the results if the candidates bios aren’t provided.

Blizzard contended that the bios were crafted with the intention of inflating Schlapp’s number.

“Obviously, the survey included heavily biased bio statements so they could create a result that they wanted… ‘Native Kansan, conservative, Fox news, Trump, Trump… Trump is read to a respondent three times,” Blizzard said of Schlapp’s description in the poll.

Kansas State Treasurer Jake LaTurner, the only declared Republican candidate, was not included in the head-to-head poll. Neither were Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and a host of other prominent Kansas Republicans floating possible campaigns.

Patrick Miller, a political scientist at the University of Kansas, questioned the absence of these other candidates in the poll and said the poll should be seen as attempt to promote Schlapp rather than a serious analysis of the race.

“I am always very skeptical of horse race questions where voters are asked to express a preference after they are read a candidate biography,” Miller said in an email. “The point of these ‘informed vote’ questions is usually to see how preferences change when you compare that to a question where no biography was read but rather just the names are given to respondents. These biographies may not actually reflect how candidates come to be perceived in a real campaign.”

Schlapp currently lives in Virginia, but has deep ties to the Kansas political community, having launched his career as a staffer for former Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kansas, and served as lobbyist for Wichita-based Koch Industries.

Schlapp said last week that the White House duties of his wife, Mercedes Schlapp, and his responsibilities as chairman of the American Conservative Union could complicate a run for Senate.

Roberts, the retiring Republican who currently holds the seat, has fielded phone calls from nearly a dozen potential candidates. He said that Schlapp has not reached out, but he noted that Schlapp first floated a potential run in the media the day Roberts announced his retirement plans in January.

“I don’t have any feelings about that as you can tell,” Roberts said dryly. “I haven’t talked to him… I think he’s a candidate. It’s interesting. Gosh, an 11-person primary and two or three on the other side. It’ll be gangbusters.”

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