TOPEKA – U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts has maintained his big fundraising advantage over challenger Milton Wolf in the Kansas Republican primary, but Wolf received the endorsement Tuesday of a national tea party group.
Roberts’ campaign disclosed Tuesday that it began July with more than $2.05 million in cash on hand, despite spending more than $1.05 million from April through June. The three-term incumbent’s campaign raised nearly $797,000 in cash contributions, compared with the roughly $341,000 that Wolf’s campaign disclosed. Wolf spent almost $340,000 during the three-month period and began July with about $280,000 in cash on hand.
Roberts’ re-election campaign has spent more than $2.13 million since the beginning of last year. Wolf has spent $649,000 since formally starting his campaign in October.
The candidates’ fundraising disclosures came as the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund endorsed Wolf. The group said Wolf is the best choice for fighting Democratic President Barack Obama’s agenda.
But the American Hospital Association was broadcasting statewide television ads praising Roberts as a champion of rural health and a strong opponent of excess government regulation. It disclosed last week that it had spent $212,000.
The hospital association spent a similar amount in May on ads supporting Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, who won a narrow GOP primary runoff. The tea party group endorsing Wolf also backed Cochran’s opponent, spending more than $911,000, according to federal campaign finance records.
Clay Barker, the Kansas Republican Party’s executive director, said party officials believe that tea party activists upset over Cochran’s victory in Mississippi will turn to Kansas ahead of its Aug. 5 primary.
“We knew they would be coming,” Barker said. “My guess is what will happen is that some of these outside groups will see what Wolf’s supporters do and try to counter-balance it.”
Two lesser-known candidates also are on the GOP primary ballot, and two Democrats, Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor and Lawrence attorney Patrick Wiesner, are seeking their party’s nomination.
Kevin Broughton, spokesman for the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, said younger and more aggressive candidates tend to appeal to tea party activists. Roberts is 78 and served 16 years in the U.S. House before winning his Senate seat in 1996. Wolf is a 43-year-old Leawood radiologist and was endorsed in February by another national group, the Tea Party Express.
“You look for candidates who will not just be a steady vote but somebody who, in a time like this, will take the fight to the Obama administration,” Broughton said.
Roberts executive campaign manager Leroy Towns declined to respond to the Tea Party Patriots endorsement of Wolf.
During a Monday rally for Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, the senator struck an aggressive tone, deriding Obama for “efforts to move our country to a socialistic state.”
Meanwhile, Towns said the hospital association’s support for Roberts shows that medical groups are shying away from Wolf. The challenger has acknowledged that several years ago he posted graphic X-ray images of fatal gunshot wounds and other medical injuries on a personal Facebook page, along with dark-humor commentary. Wolf apologized.
“It points to the problems of him being so ethically challenged,” Towns said.
Wolf contends Roberts is resorting to personal attacks to save his lengthy career, and Broughton said he doesn’t see the Facebook issue being a major one.
Wolf spokesman Ben Hartman called the hospital association “a special interest group that is part of the incumbent protection racket in DC.”