KANSAS CITY, Mo. - With less than a month to go before Kansas Republicans select their senate candidate in the state’s August primary, the battle between incumbent Senator Pat Roberts and his conservative challenger Dr. Milton Wolf continues to escalate, despite public polls suggesting a non-competitive race.
Coming out of the holiday weekend, each candidate has announced new statewide negative advertising pushes meant to highlight their opponent’s greatest perceived weaknesses.
For the Wolf campaign, that means attacking Roberts on the issue of residency.
Wolf’s campaign has tirelessly needled and attacked Roberts over the question of whether he actually lives since a February New York Times story showed Roberts’ primary residence is in Virginia, not the sunflower state, and that he rents a room when he returns to Kansas.
Roberts has spent a total of 47 years as a Kansas elected official in Washington, and Wolf’s campaign has banked on anti-incumbent sentiment and residency questions being the lever that can push him out.
Wolf received new ammunition over the weekend, when conservative radio host Greg Knapp pressed Roberts on the question of where he actually lives, producing a gaffe the Wolf campaign immediately leapt upon.
“Every time I get an opponent, I mean, every time I get a chance, I’m home,” Roberts told Knapp on KCMO radio. By Monday, the comment had become a radio ad which will air statewide beginning Tuesday.
On Monday morning, the Roberts’ campaign also fired back, announcing it would re-air an ad titled “Alamring,” which highlights Facebook posts made by the former Radiologist Wolf in which he mocks accident victims and other severely injured people . The ad resumed airing in the Kansas City, Wichita and Topeka television markets on Monday.
Wolf’s campaign reads the Roberts decision to spend more money on negative advertisements in the race’s closing weeks as a sign the incumbent is nervous.
'We don't think they feel comfortable in this race, and they shouldn't," campaign manager Ben Hartman told 41 Action News. “Roberts going on the attack just shows they're not comfortable.”
But public polling suggests Roberts ought to be comfortable. A poll released last week by SurveyUSA for the NBC affiliate KSN shows Roberts more than doubling up Wolf , leading 56-23, with a 3.5 point margin of error.
Representatives of Roberts’ campaign could not immediately be reached for comment, but in a statement accompanying the re-release of “alarming,” executive campaign manager Leroy Towns confidently put down the Wolf candidacy.
“Kansas voters have and will continue to reject him as a candidate,” Towns wrote. “Nationally, his candidacy is a joke.”
But Hartman, Wolf’s campaign manager, predicted a tight finish to the race – and said Wolf had received a surge in fundraising after incumbent senator Thad Cochran successfully held off a tea party challenge from state senator Chris McDaniel.
"Roberts numbers are very movable because they think 47 years is enough," Hartman said.