To the surprise of few in Kansas or Washington D.C., Republican Sen. Pat Roberts won renomination to a fourth term last night. But in defeating tea party favorite and radiologist Milton Wolf, Roberts, 78, won with a less-than-expected margin of 48.2 percent to 40.7 percent.
Roberts' victory means that no sitting GOP senator has lost renomination in this election year. Wolf, who is a distant cousin to President Barack Obama, was the last major tea party insurgent challenging an incumbent senator in a primary.
Like other tea party candidates, Wolf, 43, hit hard at Roberts for his vote to lift the debt ceiling. In addition, he repeatedly hammered at the senator for being a Washington insider who owned a home in Northern Virginia and rented from friends in Kansas.
Roberts, the son of a Republican National chairman, came to Washington in the 1960s to work for the late Republican Rep. Keith Sebelius, succeeded him in the House in 1980, and went on to the Senate in 1996.
But Wolf was also hurt by revelations he had posted pictures of gunshot victims on his website with accompanying sarcastic comments about them. He apologized publicly but many national tea party groups had taken a pass on the race. The Tea Party Express and the Tea Party Patriots did weigh in for the insurgent.
Wolf won the Kansas City, Kansas, metro area in the 3rd Congressional District. He carried his home county big suburban Johnson County slightly and the more urban areas in East Kansas. Roberts won comfortably in rural counties.
Even more surprising than the tight Senate primary was the unexpectedly close race in the 1st District. Republican Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a tea party favorite and critic of House Speaker John Boehner, won renomination over moderate farmer Alan LaPolice by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent.
The primary turned out to be referendum on Huelskamp, who was bumped from the House Agriculture Committee (reportedly because of his public criticism of Boehner’s leadership) and voted against the farm bill. In a rural district once represented by Bob Dole, Huelskamp was slammed by LaPolice for putting his ideological commitments above the needs of the farming community.
Huelskamp now faces a stronger-than-usual challenge in the fall from Democrat Jim Sherow, former mayor of Manhattan, Kansas.
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