By John Celock
A top Republican Party official in Kansas squashed a report that the party is searching for a candidate to take on U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.) in the 2016 GOP primary.
Kansas Republican Party political director Heath Kohl said that a Roll Call article from earlier this week that party leaders are looking to oust Huelskamp is “100 percent of a fabrication.” Kohl made his comments during an interview Wednesday morning on the “Joseph Ashby Show” on KQAM radio in Wichita. Huelskamp, who has made a name for himself in Congress as a conservative thorn in House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) side, has been viewed in Washington as being vulnerable since Boehner ousted him from the House Agriculture Committee, an important slot for his largely rural district, in 2013. Huelskamp defeated largely unknown primary challenger Alan LaPolice by 10 points in 2014, a margin that has led some to speculate that Huelskamp could be vulnerable to a more well known or better funded challenger in 2016.
“That is 100 percent true,” Kohl said when asked by Ashby that the Kansas Republican Party is not behind a Huelskamp primary challenge. “My best friend ran his campaign this year. We helped in the general. We are 100 percent behind Tim Huelskamp. If I didn’t work for the party I’d help him.”
Kohl said that he believes the story could be Washington based where speculation has long been that Boehner has been searching for a challenger to oust Huelskamp. Huelskamp has made a name for himself in Washington with his strong conservative views and willingness to buck Boehner and the rest of his caucus. His work has made him something of a folk hero to conservative grassroots activists in his district, which encompasses most of the state.
“They are constantly looking for stories that fit the narrative in DC. I said there is no story here,” Kohl said Wednesday. “What became news to me was when they said it was the Kansas GOP. That is a 100 percent of a fabrication. The Republican Party in Kansas is not this is giant building where people are coming in suits and ties everyday. There are three staffers there. It is a total grassroots organization.”
The Roll Call story listed state Sen. Garrett Love (R-Montezuma), real estate developer Tracey Mann and physician Roger Marshall as potential Huelskamp primary challengers in 2016. Love, who turned 27 on Wednesday, has long been listed as a potential primary challenger to Huelskamp, with some speculating that he could have taken on the congressman in this year’s primary. Mann lost a 2010 GOP primary to Huelskamp.
Love is viewed as a future contender for higher office in Kansas with many noting his quick rise in state politics. He unseated a former state House speaker in a 2010 and was tapped to fill Huelskamp’s former state Senate seat before he was even sworn-in to the House. The youngest senator in Kansas history, Love currently serves as Senate majority whip and chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee. He would have to risk his state Senate seat to make a challenge to Huelskamp in 2016, which have led many to dismiss speculation that he’d try to challenge Huelskamp.
Love has been mentioned as a potential statewide candidate in 2018 or a congressional candidate in 2020 if Huelskamp were to run for the U.S. Senate. Love is one of two rising GOP stars most mentioned to run if Huelskamp were to run statewide in 2020. State Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady (R-Palco), 30, who managed Huelskamp’s 2014 campaign, is mentioned alongside Love as a potential 2020 candidate. Couture-Lovelady, who has received praise for his 2014 work for Huelskamp and other candidates, recently joined the state House GOP leadership as caucus chairman.
Kohl, who is known for his extensive travel around the state meeting with local GOP leaders, stressed to Ashby that the state GOP is a grassroots organization and that local activists elect the party leadership and decide which candidates to back. He noted that the party does not get involved in primary campaigns, but rather spends the time before the primary working with local party organizations to be prepared for the general election.
When questioned by Ashby about divisions in Kansas’ federal delegation on the recent government-spending bill to pass Congress, Kohl noted that the state has one of the most conservative federal delegations in the country, along with Oklahoma. He also played up the debate among the six-member delegation, noting that conservatives tend to have public debate of various viewpoints.
“They all want smaller government but they have different paths to get there. That’s what makes them conservative,” Kohl said. “We see it with the Democrats of all party line or it doesn’t come up to a vote. Conservatives have different ideas. There is that conversation and that conversation is good to have. Different ideas bring about good policy.”