In a move that could scramble the crowded Republican primary in the 4th Congressional District, state Sen. Dick Kelsey on Friday abruptly suspended his campaign.
In a brief written announcement, Kelsey said, "During the coming months, I will devote all my energy to my work in the state Senate and in working through a family health issue."
Kelsey could not be reached for comment, but his campaign manager, Linda Alter, said he was stepping out of the race — at least for now — because of health concerns involving his wife, Doris.
"We had no clue this was coming," Alter said. "I think he (Kelsey) just came to this decision himself."
The move comes less than two weeks after his biggest campaign event to date, a well-attended fundraiser featuring former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Huckabee, winner of the 2008 Kansas Republican presidential caucus, remains widely popular among state Republicans.
Analysts say the bulk of Kelsey's support was coming from religious conservatives attracted by his strong stance in the Legislature against abortion and his embrace of conservative pastors and their social values.
Kelsey trailed businessman Wink Hartman in a recent KWCH Eyewitness News/SurveyUSA poll.
But Wichita State University political science professors Ken Ciboski and Mel Kahn, who have closely monitored the race, had given Kelsey a better-than-average chance of winning because of the energy and commitment that anti-abortion and social-conservative voters bring to GOP primaries.
On Friday, they said Kelsey's action probably won't benefit his state Senate colleague, Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, the only woman and the only self-identified moderate Republican in the race.
They said it's too early to tell how the Kelsey bloc will break between the remaining three conservative candidates — Hartman, Republican National Committeeman Mike Pompeo and small-business owner Jim Anderson.
"I guess it will help whoever can grab the mantle of being the most favorable to the pro-life position," Kahn said.
Ciboski pointed out that none of the remaining conservative candidates have held elective office and can't point to a legislative track record on abortion as Kelsey could.
"Some of them (Kelsey voters) might just stay home," Ciboski said.
The winner of the Republican primary will most likely face the Democratic Party's favored candidate, state Rep. Raj Goyle of Wichita.
Robert Tillman, a retired court services officer, is the only other Democrat to have expressed an interest in the race.
Spared the expense of a highly competitive primary and with a nationwide support network, Goyle holds a substantial fundraising edge over all of his Republican rivals.