Former state Sen. Kelly Kultala sets sights on Congressman Kevin Yoder

07/20/2014 6:39 PM

07/20/2014 6:39 PM

Kelly Kultala’s job these days is dialing for dollars.

She spends 35 hours a week soliciting contributions by phone. She estimates she’s made 9,500 calls since February.

The Wyandotte County Democrat needs money and lots of it if she’s going to take down Republican incumbent U.S. Kevin Yoder in the Kansas 3rd Congressional District. The district covers Wyandotte and Johnson counties and the northern part of Miami County.

Kultala has about $100,000 in the bank after raising $156,000 for the first six months of the year. Yoder has amassed more than $2 million.

While Kultala has the support of state Democratic leaders, the former state senator must still defeat retired construction worker Reggie Marselus of Lenexa in the primary to advance to the general election.

Marselus, 60, has no campaign staff and has raised less than $5,000 for the primary. He filed to run for Congress because Democrats didn’t field a candidate against Yoder two years ago. He called that a “tragedy.”

Meanwhile, Kultala is already setting her sights on Yoder. She’s focusing her campaign on education and helping middle-class families.

Kultala accuses Yoder of emphasizing moderate policies back home but supporting conservative policies in Washington.

She links him to conservative Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, who has been struggling in the polls lately.

Yoder “comes back here into the district and talks moderate here in the district and then goes to Washington, D.C., and votes with the tea party,” Kultala said.

Yoder declined an interview for this story. A spokesman emailed a one-sentence statement saying the congressman was “busy and focusing on his official work at hand.”

Even though Yoder has stockpiled millions, Kultala is encouraged by poll numbers. A survey of 400 likely voters in May showed Yoder with support from less than 50 percent of voters two years after apologizing for skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galilee during a congressional fact-finding trip.

The poll of likely voters showed the two-term incumbent with 42 percent of the vote compared with 34 percent for Kultala. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent.

About 41 percent of the district’s 466,486 voters are Republican. An additional 31 percent are unaffiliated. Twenty-seven percent of the voters are Democrats with the balance Libertarian.

Bob Beatty, a political scientist at Washburn University in Topeka, believes Kultala has an uphill climb.

Not only is she already at a significant fund-raising disadvantage, it could get tougher to raise money in coming weeks because cash might be siphoned away by higher-profile state races for governor and secretary of state.

Kultala also has been nagged by a campaign finance violation when $1,000 was transferred from her state Senate campaign fund to her congressional campaign committee. Kansas law bars transferring money for state races to a federal campaign. The state ethics commission fined Kultala $100 for the violation.

Kultala said she didn’t intentionally violate the law. She said the money was moved back into her Senate account as soon as the Kansas Republican Party brought the complaint. “It was totally inadvertent.”

To reach Brad Cooper call 816-234-7724 or send email to bcooper@kcstar.com

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