Senator Pat Roberts ain’t in Kansas any more. Or is he?
A piece today by the New York Times called out veteran Republican Senator Pat Roberts for making a last ditch effort to prove his worthiness to the voters of Kansas, despite not having actively been there in over thirty years. The piece mentions how Roberts and his wife have been fixtures at their residence in Alexandria, Virginia but have barely, if ever, been home to the state that Roberts represents in the United States Senate. The piece revealed that Roberts uses the address of two longtime supporters and donors as his voting address and that he stays with them whenever he travels to his “home” state. Roberts openly admitted that he does not own a home of his own in Kansas.
Despite this dubious living situation, it hasn’t hurt Roberts this far, at least not politically. Roberts currently is a member of the prestigious Alfalfa Club of distinguished Washingtonians and a regular on the Sunday television talk shows. The seventy-seven year-old Roberts has also not been challenged politically in the Sunflower State. He won his third term in the Senate in 2008 with 60% of the vote. Previous to that, he served as a Congressman, winning seven consecutive terms including running unopposed in 1988. It seems on the surface that issues over Roberts’ residency most likely won’t affect his bid to win a fourth senate term in the fall of 2014.
Tell that to Richard Lugar.
In 2012, the veteran Indiana Republican senator was heavily criticized for not having a permanent residence in his home state of Indiana. Tea Party challenger Richard Mourdock actively pummeled Lugar on this issue, painting him as a Washington insider who had turned his back on the people of the Indiana. Despite being a six-term senator, Lugar lost to Mourdock in the Republican primary, becoming the first six-term senator to do so since 1952. Mourdock went on to lose the general election to Joe Donnelly, costing Indiana an important senate seat.
So, what does the Tea Party have in store for Mr. Roberts in Kansas?
Similar to Indiana, a new candidate is stepping forward in the likes of physician Milton Wolf. Wolf has the backing of the Kansas Tea Party and hopes to use Roberts’ residency issues as a way to paint him as out-of-touch with the people of his home state. Despite having a significant war chest and decades of experience, Roberts is already feeling the heat from Wolf. The day before Wolf declared his candidacy in August 2013, Roberts established his voting residence as he knew it would serve as a campaign issue. Since that time, Roberts has made choice after choice to try and paint himself as being Conservative enough for Kansas voters.
To do so has caused him to move further and further to the right, despite alienating some of his closest friends and allies. Roberts has openly called for the resignation of Kathleen Sebelius, despite having worked for her father-in-law Kansas Representative Keith Sebelius. Roberts also opposed a United Nations treaty that would have banned discrimination against people with disabilities, despite being personally lobbied to support the treaty by Kansas native son and presidential nominee, Bob Dole. And, just this last week, Roberts opposed the Farm Bill despite it being supported by the Kansas farm lobby but opposed by Tea Party Activists.
At this point in time, it’s too early to say what impact Roberts’ issues with residency will have on the fall election. However, if Wolf can begin to convince Kansas voters that Roberts is out of touch with them and their needs, he might be able to get some campaign cash to start flowing in. If the Kansas Tea Party believes they have an actual chance to dethrone somebody like Roberts, expect a flood of dark money from the Koch brothers and other prominent Tea Partiers to begin to show up in Wolf’s war chest. In 2012, nobody thought that Dick Lugar would ever be primaried by another Republican candidate. He, and the Republican establishment, quickly saw how dangerous a Tea Party candidate can be with momentum on his side.
Kansas has not had a Democratic senator since 1939. It’s very likely that 2014 will not be the year that the streak ends. However, the Roberts situation might make for some interesting theater, especially if the race gets close. We’ve all seen the “Sharon Angle syndrome” where Tea Party members get all jazzed up about a particular candidate in the primary only to realize too late and he or she is too extreme to win in a general election. Should the Wolf train pick up steam and manage to somehow derail the incumbent Roberts, there is a chance, albeit a small one, that a qualified Democrat would at least be competitive in the Sunflower State.
Not even Dorothy herself could imagine Kansas with a Democratic senator.
Correction 12:20 PM: This post previously inaccurately stated that Roberts was currently the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. This inaccuracy has been corrected in the current version of this article.