Government & Politics

Todd Tiahrt posts friendly message from Paul Davis on Facebook, some conservatives riled

A Facebook post by former U.S. Rep. Todd Tiahrt about a supportive phone message from Democrat Paul Davis is drawing mixed reaction from conservatives.

Tiahrt, a Republican, lost a bid on Aug. 5 to regain the congressional seat he once held.

Davis is challenging Gov. Sam Brownback in November.

Davis left the message on Tiahrt’s answering machine Friday.

“I’ve been meaning to give you a call here for a week or so. I just wanted to tell you I’m sorry the election results did not turn out as hoped,” Davis said in the message to Tiahrt and his wife. “I’ve been sort of rooting for you from afar here. And it sounds like you worked really hard and ran a good campaign.

“I’m sorry that things did not turn out, but I really enjoyed the opportunity to meet you on the campaign trail and hopefully will get an opportunity to spend some more time with you down the road,” Davis continued.

Tiahrt lost the Republican primary to U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, 63 percent to 37 percent, after a contentious race

“Just got back from running errands and listened to landline messages,” Tiahrt posted on his Facebook page along with a video of his answering machine playing the message. “This was a total surprise. Thanks Paul Davis, candidate for KS Governor, for a very nice gesture.”

Some conservatives were impressed with the gesture from the Democratic candidate.

“What an incredibly nice message!” Sen. Michael O'Donnell, R-Wichita, an outspoken supporter of Tiahrt’s, posted.

However, others reacted to it with anger and chastised Tiahrt for posting it.

Mike Stieben, co-chairman of Kansans for Life’s political action committee, which supported Pompeo, lambasted both Davis and Tiahrt in a series of posts.

“It was a nice gesture but this is one of the most anti-family and anti-life men to ever seek the governorship he consistently voted for abortion as a method of birth control in the legislature and he opposed our Kansas marriage amendment,” Stieben posted. “Don’t want to leave any wrong impressions this man would bring poison philosophy to the governorship. … But a good politician he would appear to be.

“Cannot believe do not have all hands on deck to defend one of the best governors in our life time on conservative issues,” Stieben continued. “By the way Sam Brownback is also a nice guy. … But a conservative one … sharing much of Todd’s philosophy … unless he has changed since 1994 … when I wore one of those red shirts in Newton!”

Tiahrt replied to Stieben that he had been pro-life since before Kansans for Life was created. He accused the organization of changing by opposing his candidacy.

Tiahrt’s wife, Vicki, also posted the video along with her own message.

“This call was a great surprise. I think genuine kindness is the very best trait in a man. Paul Davis didn’t have to do this. But he did,” she said.

That post also drew criticism.

“Paul Davis is a Socialist,” wrote Paul Rosell, former treasurer of the Kansas Republican Party. “He might be a very kind person. He might be a great neighbor or business partner or friend. But this leaves me feeling like Obama and Chris Christi hugging each other,” Rosell added, referring to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

He wrote about how personal friendships with Democrats should not affect loyalty to the Republican Party, and ended by saying, “We Love you V, and T. Please be careful.”

Anne Hodgdon, a Republican member of the Kansas Board of Healing Arts, questioned Davis’ motivations for leaving the message.

“I believe Todd (and you, Vicki) are being gamely played by Davis at your moment of vulnerability. Now you can all scream at me, but somebody had to shed some light on this love fest,” Hodgdon posted.

Chris Pumpelly, Davis’ campaign spokesman, said he did not know about the message until he was called by a reporter, but he said it’s not unusual for his boss to leave such messages for members of both political parties.

“He does this a lot. This is something Paul has done for years,” Pumpelly said. “This can be tough work, and if you are a candidate and you aren’t successful, it’s a pretty hard feeling. And he’s being gracious, reaching out, and it’s something that frankly, me personally, it made me proud.”

Pumpelly would not respond to specific comments left on the Tiahrts’ pages but lamented that some commenters were reacting with anger.

“I will say any effort to politicize something like this is unfortunate,” he said. “If somebody’s going to try and make a political point out of this, that’s up to them. My honest read of this is Paul was just being a decent human being, and that’s all there is to it.”

Vicki Tiahrt wrote a passionate response to the people questioning or criticizing the message.

“I am speechless. My thoughts are – Paul Davis, a democrat running for office, placed a call to a republican having just lost a primary. He asked for nothing. He left no number. Most likely he is getting grief from his base – ‘how could you speak to Todd Tiahrt?' “ she wrote.

“We likely did Paul Davis a disservice by making his private call public. But I hope his example of kindness and good manners catches on.”