Government & Politics

Pat Roberts, Milton Wolf near the Kansas Senate GOP primary finish line

Roberts (left), Wolf
Roberts (left), Wolf

Still trying to make up your mind?

After a campaign over issues as new as Facebook and as old as a mailbox, Republicans across Kansas must decide Tuesday if they’ll nominate Pat Roberts for another term in the U.S. Senate — or endorse tea party newcomer Milton Wolf for the seat.

Public polling has been scarce. The latest Survey USA poll, taken in mid-July, showed Roberts with a 20-point lead in the race among likely GOP voters, down from a 33-point margin in June.

And 12 percent were undecided.

That suggests the race could still tilt either way, although Roberts remains the favorite. “Roberts … finds himself no longer able to take (the race) for granted,” the pollsters said.

The campaigns will make their final arguments this weekend. Here’s a look at what voters should know:

Roberts’ argument: Roberts, 78, is seeking his fourth Senate term. Re-election would give Kansas an experienced, significant voice in the Senate’s business, particularly if Republicans take control of the body.

Wolf’s argument: Kansans would be better served by a fresh political perspective and strong conservative values. Wolf, 43, has promised to align himself with conservatives such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, although Cruz has taken no position on the race.

Roberts’ biggest problem: Roberts’ home is in Virginia. He also owns a house in Kansas but admits he leases it to a tenant and claims the home of a supporter as his voting address.

Wolf’s biggest problem: As a radiologist, Wolf once posted pictures of gunshot patients on Facebook, along with captions many considered inappropriate. He’s apologized for the posts but has said he did not break the law.

Issue disagreements: Not many. Wolf says he supports term limits for members of Congress and has promised to serve a maximum of 12 years in the Senate. Roberts has been in the Senate since 1997 and in Congress since 1981, and he has not supported term limits.

Other disagreements revolve around tone and approach: Both support the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, for example, but Wolf says Roberts hasn’t done enough to kill it.

Roberts says Wolf lacks foreign policy experience, a potential concern in an increasingly chaotic world.

Roberts on Twitter: “National Spokesman and Music legend, Pat Boone, said, ‘I’m still singing at concerts, but today I am singing the praises of Pat Roberts.’”

Wolf on Twitter: “If Pat Roberts could name his achievements after #47 years in DC or back up his personal attacks, he’d debate me.”

A Wolf complaint about Roberts: As a senator, Roberts has voted more than 10 times to raise the nation’s debt ceiling. Wolf says he would oppose debt ceiling increases.

Yes, but: Roberts has also voted against raising the debt ceiling. Republicans and Democrats routinely use debt ceiling votes to embarrass the occupant of the White House, and Roberts is no exception.

If Wolf is elected to the Senate, and his position on the debt ceiling prevails, the nation would likely face default on its debt.

A Roberts complaint about Wolf: Farm policy is critical in Kansas. Wolf has never held elective office, and the incumbent says the newcomer doesn’t understand agriculture policy, while Roberts has chaired agriculture committees in both houses of Congress.

Yes, but: Roberts’ own history on federal farm policy is checkered. Some consider his Freedom to Farm bill a mistake, and he voted against the last farm bill, which passed anyway.

It’s personal: Wolf has sharply criticized Roberts for not agreeing to a large-scale, one-on-one debate. He confronted Roberts about the issue in Emporia on Wednesday.

Roberts has criticized Wolf for failing to cast ballots in some elections.

Wolf, talking about Roberts: “Pat Roberts does things the Washington way. He gets a lot of money from lobbyists, and he tries to overwhelm you. Our message is simple: Washington has failed us.”

Roberts, talking about Wolf: “He has yet to explain very unusual behavior, other than the fact that he was stressed. Send him to Washington and see how stressed he gets.”

Quote they likely regret: “Every time I get an opponent — I mean, every time I get a chance — I’m home.” Pat Roberts, July 3.

“It has been a tremendous honor to be in the family, just by fate to be put in the front row of history and watch this wonderful turn of events to see (Barack Obama) elected.” Milton Wolf, Mar. 12, 2010.

Also in the background: Roberts’ surrogates criticized Wolf for a price-fixing lawsuit against his radiology firm, even though Wolf isn’t a named defendant. Wolf attacked Roberts’ vote for Kathleen Sebelius to be Health and Human Services secretary, even though Roberts called for her to resign after the poor launch of

Outside groups spending for Wolf: Fight for Tomorrow, Madison Action Fund, Senate Conservatives Fund/Action, Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund.

Outside groups spending for Roberts: American Hospital Assn. PAC, National Rifle Association of America Political Victory Fund, American College of Radiology Association PAC.

Biggest donors, by sector (via Open Secrets): Roberts: finance, insurance, real estate. Wolf: ideological groups/single issue.

Money raised from Kansans (via Open Secrets): Roberts: 43 percent of all donations. Wolf: 22 percent.

Roberts endorsements: Gov. Sam Brownback, former Sen. Bob Dole, Sen. Jerry Moran.

Wolf endorsements: Former Rep. Jim Ryun, radio talker Mark Levin, blogger Erick Erickson.

Also on the GOP primary ballot: Alvin Zahnter and D.J. Smith.

To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to