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Kansas' Roberts endures as GOP votes in 4 states

Kansas’ Roberts beats Tea Party hopeful for Senate nod

By DONNA CASSATA The Associated Press

This article was published August 6, 2014 at 5:28 a.m.


U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., greets supporters Tuesday at a watch party in Overland Park with Gov. Sam Brownback and other state GOP leaders.

WASHINGTON -- Three-term Republican Sen. Pat Roberts defeated Tea Party favorite Milton Wolf in Kansas' primary Tuesday as four states kicked off a busy month of contests to settle the ballots for November's midterm elections.

With 79 percent of the precincts reporting, Roberts held a 48 percent to 41 percent lead over Wolf, a radiologist and distant cousin of President Barack Obama who had argued that the incumbent wasn't conservative enough. Two other primary candidates combined for 11 percent of the vote.

The Kansas race pitted a mainstream Republican against an upstart who argued that the incumbent wasn't true to core conservative beliefs.

The GOP establishment blames the Tea Party for costing it Senate control in 2010 and 2012 as outside candidates stumbled in the general election. Republicans need to gain six seats in November to get control of the Senate, and the party has taken no chances this election cycle, putting its full force behind incumbents and mainstream candidates.

So far this year, incumbent senators have prevailed in Texas, Kentucky, South Carolina and Mississippi, though it took six-term Sen. Thad Cochran two tries before defeating Chris McDaniel, who is challenging the outcome. Only two incumbents had lost their races before Tuesday -- Republican Reps. Eric Cantor of Virginia and Ralph Hall of Texas.

Tuesday also offered competitive primaries in Michigan, Missouri and Washington state.

In Michigan's 11th Congressional District, Tea Party-backed businessman Dave Trott defeated first-term Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, 66 percent to 34 percent. Trott will face the winner of a four-way Democratic primary in the fall to represent the district covering a swath of Detroit's western and northern suburbs.

The four-state primary day launched a crowded stretch with votes in Tennessee on Thursday, Hawaii on Saturday and Connecticut, Minnesota and Wisconsin next week. By month's end, voters will decide the Republican Senate nominee in a competitive race against Sen. Mark Begich in Alaska and the Democratic primary between Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa.

Kansas, famous for sending moderate Republicans to Congress, held Tuesday's marquee contest.

The 78-year-old Roberts, a conservative, has moved even further right during the tough re-election race.

The senator, who backed the nomination of former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to be secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, was one of the first to call for her resignation after the disastrous launch of the health care website last October.

Roberts also voted against a United Nations treaty on the rights of the disabled in December 2012 despite the appeals of former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole, who sat in a wheelchair in the well of the Senate.

Wolf argued that Roberts had spent too much time in Washington, owning a home in the nation's capital while merely renting in Kansas. Roberts didn't help his cause when he told a radio interviewer last month: "Every time I get an opponent -- uh, I mean, every time I get a chance -- I'm home."

On Monday, Roberts said it was the "the height of absurdity" for people who want to replace him in Washington to criticize him for spending too much time there.

"You've got to go where the fight is," he said. "I have to work in Washington."

Wolf eagerly disavowed the policies of his cousin Obama and cast himself as a pure conservative. He had the backing of the Senate Conservatives Fund and several Tea Party groups.

But Wolf had been dogged by X-rays of gunshot victims that he posted on a Facebook page with humorous comments. Wolf acknowledged the mistake and has apologized, but Roberts has made an issue in campaign ads.

"Character counts, and in my primary race, we have tried to emphasize that in terms of facts about my opponent," Roberts said this week.

Meanwhile, in one of the fiercest House GOP primaries Tuesday, two-term Rep. Mike Pompeo of Kansas defeated former Rep. Todd Tiahrt, who served eight terms in the House and was trying to return to Washington.

Two-term Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a Kansas Republican who has frustrated GOP leadership and his rural constituents over votes against the farm bill, was locked in a close race Tuesday night with Alan LaPolice, a farmer and educator.

In Michigan's 3rd Congressional District in the southwest part of the state, Rep. Justin Amash, who has challenged the GOP leadership, defeated Brian Ellis, a 53-year-old Grand Rapids businessman who owns an investment advisory firm and serves on the School Board.

Amash is popular among libertarians for his challenges to the National Security Agency's surveillance of Americans.

In Missouri, Republicans regained a two-thirds majority in the state House on Tuesday, setting up a showdown with Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon over his vetoes of tax breaks, abortion restrictions and other issues.

Republican Tila Hubrecht won a special election Tuesday in the 151st District. That gave Republicans 109 House seats, the minimum two-thirds majority required to override gubernatorial vetoes. Republicans already held a two-thirds majority in the Senate.

In Washington state, voters considered 12 candidates vying to replace 10-term Rep. Doc Hastings, a Republican who is retiring. The two candidates who collect the most mail-in ballots advance to the general election, setting up what could be a Republican-versus-Republican contest in the heavily GOP district in central Washington.

Information for this article was contributed by staff members of The Associated Press.

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