A conservative Republican congressman is once again fighting to save his political career while leaders in his own party try to oust him for what he says is simply honoring his promises to the voters.
Four states head to the polls in congressional primaries on August 2, but the most intriguing – and expensive – of those races is in the first congressional district of Kansas. Known as “The Big First,” the sprawling district takes up a majority of the land in the state. Rep. Tim Huelskamp is seeking a fourth term in the House but is facing a well-funded challenge from hospital executive Dr. Roger Marshall.
The congressman says his internal polling is encouraging but that the infusion of money and messages in the home stretch of this primary campaign shows nothing should be taken for granted.
“Since then the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has jumped in. This Super PAC out of Chicago owned by uber billionaires has jumped in as well. This could be the most expensive primary in the country when it’s all done,” said Huelskamp, noting the money is coming from New York and New Jersey as well but apparently not from Kansas.
“Why would folks in Chicago be pumping money into Kansas, or folks in New Jersey or folks in London. One guy wrote a $100,000 check with a corporate office in London. They’re trying to buy this election,” he added.
The people of the first district may soon be dizzy from all the attention. Huelskamp says supporters of Marshall have spent over a million dollars in just the past three weeks.
And he has a pretty good idea why some of those people and groups don’t want him back in Congress.
“I think the U.S. Chamber is in for one reason: because I won’t vote for amnesty. I won’t vote to raise the debt ceiling. Some of these Super PACs want to borrow more money and spend more money,” said Huelskamp.
Huelskamp says the mailers and other ads he’s seen from the outside groups are trying to deceive people about his record, especially the Chicago-based group that the congressman says also supported Hillary Clinton in Iowa earlier this year. Marshall also leads the campaign fundraising race.
“They’ve done at least 33 different mailers in different parts of the district just slamming us and lying about us. That’s actually a good sign because they understand that if you want to win in America as a Republican, you at least have to claim you’re a conservative,” said Huelskamp.
He says it’s governing as a conservative that too many in the party cannot tolerate.
“They like to campaign as conservatives but when you actually vote that way and fight that way and try to do what we promised to do as Republicans, it upsets the insiders,” said Huelskamp.
Huelskamp says the past few years of GOP control in the House is proof the party has not kept its campaign promises.
“Under John Boehner, they added five trillion dollars of new debt. You can’t blame it all on Obama because that all went through the U.S. House. In many cases under John Boehner, a minority of Republicans teamed up with Nancy Pelosi to pass increases in the debt ceiling and massive increases in spending but not do anything about Obamacare,” said Huelskamp, who labels himself a “proven conservative.”
The congressman says his defeat would not only please party leaders but also serve as a warning to other conservatives.
“If they can take out a conservative in the heartland of America, then they send a message to my 40 or 50 or 60 conservative colleagues in the House and say it’s time to do exactly what leadership tells them to do,” said Huelskamp.
Huelskamp became headline news in late 2012, when he and two other GOP members were stripped of their top committee assignments for bucking leadership too much. Huelskamp lost his seat on the House Agriculture Committee, a hugely important position for his rural farm district. He survived a tough primary fight in 2014 but he’s facing even more ammunition now.
Marshall and some of the outside groups have said Huelskamp needs to go because the first district in Kansas needs their congressman on the House Agriculture Committee and having Huelskamp banned deprives the region of power and influence on policies vital to the area.
The congressman says that line of attack is no longer relevant thanks to new rules in the House.
“When we got rid of John Boehner, we got rid of rules in the House so one speaker couldn’t run everything. Paul Ryan agreed we were going to diffuse power and take it out of the speaker’s hands and distribute it,” said Huelskamp. “I was elected to the Steering Committee that makes those decisions as a representative of conservatives in the House.”
“We’re going to get back on the ag committee after we win this race,” he added.
Huelskamp says he is the true conservative in the race, while Marshall has is a center-left Republican. He cites his pro-life record as being much stronger than Marshall’s and touts his endorsements from multiple gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America. He also has the backing of Sen. Pat Roberts, and the conservative free-market Club for Growth is now on the air in the district with ads designed to boost Huelskamp.
In addition to the politics of the race, he identifies much better with the people of “The Big First” because he’s one of them.
“Most importantly, I’m a fifth-generation farmer. I go back and forth to Washington every week. I go to church in Kansas. My kids go to school in Kansas. Our farm is in Kansas,” said Huelskamp. “The last thing we need is more insiders who are going to make a home in Washington instead of a home back in their district,” said Huelskamp.