By John Celock
In the wake of complaints of his posting of graphic x-rays of shooting victims on Facebook, Kansas Republican U.S. Senate candidate Milton Wolf’s campaign is doubling down on allegations that the state’s GOP does not embrace conservatives.
Wolf made his original allegations Monday on a Wichita radio show, claiming that Sen. Pat Roberts’ (R-Kan.) campaign was repeating Kansas Democratic Party talking points and the state GOP establishment “fears conservatives.” Wolf also alleged that Roberts’ campaign had distributed copies of the Facebook page where he posted the graphic x-rays and joked about them.
Wolf’s campaign manager explained to The Celock Report on Tuesday that Kansas Republicans with ties to Roberts have been engaged in backroom arm twisting to get endorsements for the incumbent. Wolf, a tea party aligned radiologist who is related to President Barack Obama, has said during the campaign that Kansas needs a more conservative senator.
“There are people in the Republican Party here for whatever reason want Senator Roberts reelected and don’t want him to have a primary challenge,” Wolf campaign manager Ben Hartman said. “They have circled the wagons around Pat Roberts and make sure no one gets out of line.”
Roberts has garnered endorsements from most Kansas Republicans, including Gov. Sam Brownback and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who are viewed as leading the state’s conservative Republican wing.
Wolf’s claim that the state GOP fears conservatives surprised many in the state’s political circles, following the conservative GOP wave that has swept the state in recent years. In 2012, conservative Republicans ousted moderate Republicans in competitive primary elections with lingering tensions still simmering between the two factions of the state GOP. In 2012, former state Senate President Steve Morris (R-Hugoton) accused conservatives of wanting to create an “ultraconservative utopia” in the state.
“The fact is the Kansas GOP is conservative and reflects a majority of Kansans. It kind of flies in the face that the Republican Party in Kansas has accomplished in the past four years,” state Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina), a Roberts supporter, told The Celock Report. “We have made a pretty sweeping change from statewide having a heavy Dem influence to essentially wiping that out.”
State Rep. Reid Petty (R-Liberal), a Roberts supporter, said that he does not feel he was forced into backing the incumbent. He turned the tables and accused Wolf of strong-arm tactics.
“This is absolutely not true. I was asked one time nicely by Senator Roberts campaign for an endorsement. I was busy and it took me a little while to respond back and they never once called back or bothered me or begged,” Petty said. “However, since my endorsement for Senator Roberts, Dr. Wolf has left several voicemails and has tried texting me up to three times a day on occasion begging for a meeting about why I should endorse him. He has showed up at the Capitol and at several other meetings uninvited across the state and has cornered legislators doing the same thing. So I would say the results are reversed on strong arming.”
Hartman said that Wolf is not engaged in strong-arm tactics for endorsements and that Roberts and his supporters are trying to shift the narrative away from the issues.
Hartman told The Celock Report that Wolf’s allegations of Roberts’ campaign working with the state Democratic Party stem from a tweet from Roberts’ campaign manager, Leroy Towns on Sunday. In the tweet, which was in response to the Topeka Capitol-Journal’s story on Wolf’s involvement in the x-ray posts, Towns cited a description by Kansas Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon of Wolf’s involvement. Wagnon had called Wolf’s Facebook posts “bizarre” and “pathological” and Towns tweeted that Kansans call Wolf’s behavior “bizarre verging on pathological”.
“The Roberts campaign should answer why they are distributing Kansas Democratic Party talking points,” Hartman said. “Why is he coordinating with the Kansas Democratic Party?”
Towns reiterated the reporting by the Capitol-Journal and said that Wolf had posted the x-rays to Facebook.
“My response is that the story in the Capital-Journal and the quotes in the Capital-Journal stand for themselves,” Towns said. “What Milton Wolf did he did to himself.”
Kansas Democratic Party spokesman Dakota Loomis told The Celock Report on Monday that the party does not work with Republican campaigns. Petty said that he believes Wolf is accusing Roberts of working with Democrats in an attempt to “desperately trying to change the conversation.”
The debate comes as the primary campaign has seen a variety of news story on both sides. Roberts has been accused of not spending enough time in the state, while Wolf battles the x-ray scandal and a lawsuit against the medical practice where he is a partner for alleged price fixing.
Hartman said polling shows that Kansans want a change. He cited a PPP poll last week that showed Roberts with a 38-percent disapproval rating and 42-percent of those polled saying that Roberts is more focused on being a Washington insider.
“Kansas Republicans want a change,” Hartman said. “The PPP poll shows that conservative Kansans want a more conservative senator.”