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Huelskamp a likely target in 2 years

8/7/2014

By DION LEFLER

McClatchy-Tribune

Rep. Tim Huelskamp probably won a third term by holding off an unexpectedly strong challenge from a political novice in the Republican primary Tuesday, but he'll be a target for fellow Republicans in two years, political analysts said Wednesday.

Political science professors Chapman Rackaway of Fort Hays State University, Bob Beatty of Washburn University and Ken Ciboski of Wichita State University said Republicans hold a dominant numbers advantage over Democrats in the 1st Congressional District. All three predict Huelskamp will win in November against Democrat James Sherow.

"I'd bet on him," said Ciboski, who originally is from western Kansas.

He said the combative manner that got Huelskamp dumped from the influential House Agriculture Committee is an asset to his re-election chances, even though it alienates some powerful agrarian interests that stayed neutral or backed Alan LaPolice in the primary.

The voting results showed a distinct east-west split in the sprawling district that covers about half the state.

LaPolice won several populous eastern counties: Riley County, which includes Manhattan; Lyon County, which includes Emporia; and Saline County, which includes Salina. But he only won one county in the far west, Finney County, which is anchored by Garden City.

"People out there (in far west Kansas) respect someone like Huelskamp," Ciboski said.

"Huelskamp stands up for his principles, and they don't care if he gets kicked off the Agriculture Committee," Ciboski said.

Feuding with Congress, even his own leaders, allows Huelskamp to run as an outsider, even though he's a Washington insider, Ciboski said.

It's unlikely the 45 percent of 1st District Republicans who chose Alan LaPolice in the primary will switch allegiances to Jim Sherow, the Democratic nominee, in the November general election, the analysts said.

"The Republicans tend to go home (to their party) in general elections," Rackaway said.

But he said LaPolice did expose Huelskamp's vulnerability within his own party. And in the 2016 primary, Huelskamp will be a "marked man." The challenge could come from a better-known, better-funded LaPolice, or a current Republican office holder.

Sherow, a Kansas State University history professor and former Manhattan mayor, said he's optimistic about November and he hopes to motivate Democrats to vote, while seeking to attract enough moderate Republicans and independents to pull off the upset.

On Wednesday, Huelskamp issued a statement in the uncompromising tone that has marked his tenure as a representative.

"In the last month, a shadowy, out-of-state Super-PAC spent more than $250,000 trying to smear my reputation with lies and deceptive, bitter advertising," the statement said. "It did not work. I will not be bullied. Kansans came to my defense, and they clearly support my conservative principles."

Huelskamp pulled 74 percent of the vote in 2010 against former Salina Mayor Alan Jilka. He ran unopposed in 2012.

LaPolice came closer because even though he had little money and no name recognition to start with, he positioned himself as a credible alternative, Rackaway said.

"LaPolice was really smart with his media mix," Rackaway said. "He not only took shots at Huelskamp and showed why he thought he was a bad candidate, but LaPolice introduced himself. Folks who know Huelskamp and aren't fond of him, LaPolice gave them a reason not only to vote against Huelskamp, but for LaPolice."

That in turn brought in the Now or Never Political Action Committee, a tea party group that poured approximately $267,000 of independent spending into the district opposing Huelskamp.

"If he (LaPolice) wants to run in 2016, he's a contender," Rackaway said. "Now that he's run a campaign and has districtwide name recognition and could come that close, he can raise money earlier. There are groups that stayed out of this race that may look at him and say, 'Yeah, we're going to get behind you now. We know you're for real.' "

Beatty said the primary didn't expose a "silent majority," but did show "there's probably a fairly quiet segment of his district" that doesn't like Huelskamp's style.

His combative conservatism is a sharp contrast to the "easygoing, congenial" political style of his predecessors, Sens. Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts, and some people find it jarring, he said.

Beatty said he thinks it will take an independently wealthy candidate who can self-fund a campaign to beat Huelskamp. The Washburn professor said such a run would be expensive: in the $500,000 to $1 million range.

Money probably will be Sherow's big problem, he said. Huelskamp and other Kansas Republicans are working daily to nationalize the election and link every Democrat with Washington politics and President Obama.

"Sherow needs to convince (voters) that 'I'm a 1st District Kansas Democrat,' " which will take serious money spent sooner rather than later, Beatty said.

Rackaway said most Democratic money this election cycle will be flowing toward Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, in his race against Gov. Sam Brownback.

Davis has been leading Brownback in independent polls, and the governor was set back by the results of his own primary, where he lost 37 percent of the Republican vote to a little-known and underfunded small-business owner, Jennifer Winn.

"The Democrats have to see the opportunity to take the governor's mansion," Rackaway said. "It's going to be much harder for down-ballot Democrats to be able to fundraise."