Congress’ public approval rating could hardly get lower, hovering around 10 percent while disapproval numbers top 70 percent. Voters have been in a “throw-the-bums-out” mood for years, yet incumbent re-election rates stay above 90 percent.
Primary challenges in other states have been unsuccessful in 2014, and Kansas will probably follow suit. Only one primary shows signs of being competitive, and it was an incumbent shoo-in until this week. All eyes will be on Wichita in August as a former congressman has entered the primary against his successor in what will be a bruising and costly Republican contest.
In the First Congressional District, Tim Huelskamp has his first competition since he won the 2010 Re-publican primary. Former legislator Kent Roth has withdrawn, leaving Alan LaPolice as Huelskamp’s sole Republican challenger. Huels-kamp has made a national name for himself, but his removal from the Agriculture Committee gives LaPolice an easy campaign mes-sage.
To be competitive, LaPolice will need to raise funds aggres-sively, having reported less than $20,000 to the Federal Election Commission for the first quarter of 2014. Roth’s withdrawal was a huge favor to LaPolice, who will need all of the GOP anti-Huelskamp vote to overcome the incumbent’s significant support. Jim Sherow and Bryan Whitney have entered the race as Dem-ocrats, but the heavy Republican registration advantage suggests that the only way Huelskamp loses is in a primary.
Although Democratic regis-tration numbers suggest the best chance for one to unseat a Kansas Republican this year is in the Second District, Margie Wakefield’s novice status and limited resources do not portend success. Incumbent Lynn Jen-kins was able to convince state Sen. Steve Fitzgerald to stay out of the primary, which would have made it a race to watch. Like Huelskamp, Jenkins has a significant money advantage. House Minority leader Paul Davis’ gubernatorial campaign will absorb much of Kansas’ Democratic money, drawing from other Democratic hopefuls. Wakefield has raised just $300,000, a sum dwarfed by the $1.3 million Jenkins has on hand.
The strongest Democratic challenge may be in the district most recently represented by one, the Third District. Yet even that best-positioned Democrat is eight points behind her Repub-lican opponent. Incumbent Kevin Yoder has been the subject of embarrassing news, and now he has a substantive challenge from former state legislator and lieutenant govern-or nominee Kelly Kultala. Reggie Marselus has also filed, but Kultala’s statewide cam-paign experience and fundrais-ing capacity make her the most likely nominee to face Yoder in November. Yoder, like Jenkins, has no primary opponent.
In the Fourth District, one moment has turned a sure-fire re-election into the must-watch campaign of the primary. Mike Pompeo would have had an easy re-election bid if former U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt had decided not to run. But Tiahrt on Thursday decided to return to the campaign environment with a history of no-holds-barred campaigning, turning a quiet primary season into a potential bloodbath.
However, Tiahrt’s entry will be as risky as it will be divisive. State Republicans still hold fresh memories of his bitter Senate primary against Jerry Moran in 2010 and would like all Repub-lican candidates unified in preparation for the general election. Whoever wins the expensive primary will be the favorite against non-profit leader Perry Schuckman, who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for the state senate two years ago.
Voters often say they will “throw the bums out” and oust incumbents with whom they are dissatisfied. But such wholesale change never happens, either because of incumbents’ popular-ity or a lack of challenger quality. The U.S. House pri-maries in Kansas hold some potential for change, but sta-bility and across-the-board re-election is the likeliest result.