Marshall, Huelskamp in dead heat in ‘Big First’ race

U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp responds to a question during a debate Monday night in Hutchinson. His GOP challenger, Roger Marshall, is in the background. (June 27, 2016)
U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp responds to a question during a debate Monday night in Hutchinson. His GOP challenger, Roger Marshall, is in the background. (June 27, 2016) The Wichita Eagle

Editor’s note: Previous versions of this story had an incorrect year for Tim Huelskamp’s removal from the House budget and agriculture committees. It was 2012.

Roger Marshall and U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp are deadlocked in the race for the “Big First” congressional district two weeks ahead of the Republican primary, according to a new poll.

Marshall, an ob-gyn from Great Bend, leads the incumbent Huelskamp by less than a percentage point, putting the race within the margin of error, according to a new poll by Fort Hays State University’s Docking Institute of Public Affairs.

Marshall draws support from 40.9 percent of the poll’s respondents, and Huelskamp draws support from 40.3 percent, according to a sample of 176 likely Republican voters residing in the 1st Congressional District, which spans most of central and western Kansas.

Another 15.3 percent of respondents said they were undecided and 3.4 percent answered “other.”

The poll was paid for by The Eagle and other newspapers. It was conducted by phone between July 11 and 21. The results in the “Big First” have a margin of error of 6.76 percentage points.

Marshall’s campaign manager, Brent Robertson, said the campaign was “excited to hear that other polls are confirming what we’re seeing in the field.”

“We are pleased to be exactly where we are 10 days out …,” Robertson said. “When we started the race Congressman Huelskamp had over $600,000 cash on hand, and we’ve made this race as competitive as any race in the nation.”

Huelskamp’s campaign dismissed the poll.

“The poll’s methodology is clearly unacceptable by any surveying method in the industry,” Jim Keady, the campaign’s spokesman, said in an e-mail.

Keady said an internal poll conducted between July 12 and 13 showed Huelskamp leading Marshall by 9 percentage points. The poll of 400 likely voters, which the campaign forwarded to The Eagle, was conducted by WomanTrend, a Washington-based polling firm.

“Tim Huelskamp has the proven conservative record, and Roger Marshall is the liberal in this race,” Keady said.

However, other public polls show Marshall leading in the race. A poll released by Clout Research last week showed Marshall leading Huelskamp by 7 percentage points.

Michael Smith, a political scientist at Emporia State University, said Huelskamp is struggling more because of personality than ideology.

“Marshall’s very conservative as well, but Huelskamp’s personality is just such that he rubs a lot of people the wrong way,” he said. “And, of course, there’s also that issue of him no longer being on the Agriculture Committee.”

Huelskamp, a conservative firebrand who was first elected to the House in 2010, has often clashed with party leaders during his time in Washington, resulting in his removal from the budget and agriculture committees in 2012.

Smith said he still gives Huelskamp the slight edge going into the Aug. 2 primary, but said that it will depend on his ability to turn out conservative voters.

“I don’t know if you can use the words ‘Huelskamp’ and ‘win over’ in the same sentence,” Smith said when asked how Huelskamp can win over undecided voters. “He polarizes people just by being himself.

“I think it’s more about turnout. I think it’s more about throwing some red meat to the conservatives and having them show up in the Republican primary.”


Beyond the congressional race, the Docking Institute surveyed 765 people statewide and found that Republican Donald Trump holds a commanding lead over Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Among likely voters, 44 percent support Trump while 27 percent support Clinton. Another 7 percent support Libertarian Gary Johnson, while 16 percent are undecided and 6 percent support “some other candidate.”

Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who is seeking to get on the Kansas ballot, was not a named option in the poll.

The statewide results have a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.

Gun laws

The poll produced some surprising results on the issue of gun regulation in a state with some of the least restrictive gun laws in the nation.

The poll found that 52 percent of respondents supported a ban on assault weapons and 55 percent supported a ban on high-capacity magazines.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach was the author of a plank in the Republican Party’s platform to oppose efforts to enact such bans on a national level.

Transgender bathrooms

On the issue of school bathroom use by transgender students, the poll found that 67 percent of respondents think the Obama administration overstepped its bounds with a recent directive to schools to ensure that transgender students have access to the bathroom for the gender with which they identify.

A plurality of respondents also support requiring students to use the bathroom that matches the gender on their birth certificate – something some Republican members of the Legislature have pushed for – with 49 percent supporting such a policy and 25 percent opposing it.

The rest had no opinion on the issue.

Brownback, Legislature

The poll found low approval ratings for both Gov. Sam Brownback and the Kansas Legislature.

Only 15 percent of respondents said they were “somewhat satisfied” or “very satisfied” with Brownback’s performance as governor, while 77 percent said they were “somewhat dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied.”

Brownback is not on the ballot this year, but all 165 seats in the Legislature are. Only 25 percent of respondents reported being satisfied with the Legislature, while 60 percent said they were dissatisfied.

Brownback is term-limited; if he could run again, only 17 percent of likely voters said they would support him. President Obama would draw support from 31 percent of likely voters if he could run again.

“It seems to be getting worse for Brownback,” said Smith, the Emporia State professor. “Nothing he’s doing is leveling things off or turning things around, and so the question is with all of these moderate Republicans running on Aug. 2 … can they tie the conservatives to Brownback and somehow capitalize on that.”

Brownback spokeswoman Eileen Hawley responded in an e-mail: “There is only one poll that matters and that is the ballot box. Kansans have twice elected Sam Brownback as Governor for his pro-life, pro-second amendment, limited government policies.”

Smith noted that voters were frustrated with both the Kansas Supreme Court and the Legislature on the issue of school funding after a standoff between the two branches almost led to a statewide shutdown of schools this year.

Only 11 percent of respondents reported they were satisfied with the Legislature’s handling of the issue, while 33 percent were satisfied with the court.

Bryan Lowry: 785-296-3006, @BryanLowry3