No question shapes the 2016 politics of Kansas as much as this one: Will Milton Wolf run again for Congress following his strong showing in the 2014 primary?
The tea party member, after all, came within seven points of Sen. Pat Roberts in the August primary. That followed an intense race that saw Wolf pound on the senator as the quintessential Washington insider who had become a stranger to Kansas.
If he had won, Wolf would have scored one of the biggest upsets of 2014.
Wolf, 43, didn’t announce anything in a lunch interview Thursday. But the Leawood radiologist came across to me as something of a caged lion eager to get at a piece of meat just outside his reach. He has kept close tabs on the votes of two Republicans who just might become targets next year: Sen. Jerry Moran of Hays and Rep. Kevin Yoder of Overland Park.
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Insider whisperings have tied Wolf to both races. But of the two, the race that appeared to light up Wolf the most involved Moran.
“Anybody who wants to step up and save our country would have much more opportunity to do that from the Senate than the House,” he said.
But again, he said nothing definitive.
Wolf talks passionately about what he perceived as Moran’s efforts as chairman of the National Senatorial Campaign Committee last year to aid a longtime incumbent, Mississippi’s Thad Cochran, over conservative upstart Chris McDaniel.
In Wolf’s view, that effort involved using GOP donations to turn out Democratic voters to bail out Cochran in the Republican primary.
“Republicans won’t stand for this,” he said.
Wolf also charges that Moran is doing the same thing Roberts once did — moving right only as his re-election nears. That, Wolf said, is “a bait-and-switch of a frightened politician, and Kansans deserve better.”
He now knows what a statewide race is all about, and the controversy over his troublesome Facebook postings about gunshot victims he once treated is old news.
Still, second times around are tricky. The fresh-face aspect of his candidacy is gone. And Moran, like Roberts, comes at any statewide race with the best Republican base in Kansas — the big 1st District out west that Moran and Roberts both represented in the House.
Wolf sounds unfazed. It’s the incumbents who should be scared, he says.
“I don’t think any politician should feel too comfortable where they are. They don’t own those seats. The Kansas voters do.”