A majority of Kansas GOP primary voters did not vote for Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) on Tuesday despite the heavy institutional support he received from Washington’s GOP establishment.
But Roberts held off Tea Party challenger Milton Wolf by seven points (48%-41%) with the help of two obscure candidates who combined to get 11% of the vote. D.J. Smith, who received 6% of the vote, blasted the Obama administration’s illegal immigration policy. And Alvin Zahnter, who received 5% of the vote, ran as a “gun fanatic” and military veteran who highlighted Wolf’s lack of military service.
The Republican establishment could not have drawn it up any better if it had tried.
There was no daylight between Wolf and Roberts on illegal immigration and amnesty, but D.J. Smith still hammered Obama on the issue, emphasizing that “securing our national borders is effectively abandoned with foreign criminals and terrorists entering our nation with ease.”
Running to represent forgotten and struggling Kansans, Smith, a former city council member who narrowly lost a State Representatives race, threw out plenty of red meat on the illegal immigration issue. She even accused the White House of “orchestrating its own de facto version of immigration reform and de facto amnesty.”
“The political aspirations and agenda of the man living in the White House are facilitating an invasion of foreigners flooding across our nation’s borders,” she declared. “Said plainly, a foreign invasion of our country is now being empowered by the White House and oval office operatives.”
“If this is true, is this a lawful responsibility that our nation’s Constitution assigns to the executive branch of government?” she asked.
Smith also blasted the NSA’s spying, government corruption, and “Washington’s ‘good old boy’ cronyism.” Smith said the country’s “middle-class is disappearing, and food stamps are becoming the new American currency,” while “our freedoms and rights” are being “assaulted and undermined by an un-American socialistic agenda that’s taken root in our nation’s capitol.”
“I am not a politician. I am an American movement,” she said. “I am running because I am tired of the politics of lies, broken promises, media manipulation, political corruption, and greed.”
Alvin Zahnter highlighted his “blue-collar background and military experience,” which he said could get the “country and Kansas back on the right track.” He ran as a “gun fanatic” who also criticized Wolf for posting X-ray photos of crime victims online, which the Roberts campaign exploited in February to blunt Wolf’s momentum out of the gate and perhaps end his chances of securing the Club for Growth’s endorsement.
“The American people have had enough of dishonesty and special interests in politics. I am running for office for the little guy,” Zahnter said. “America has drifted away from the principles on which this great country was founded.”
Roberts got critical–and perhaps decisive–institutional support down the stretch. The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) reportedly sent staffers to Johnson County, Wolf’s home base, to get out of the vote for Roberts and blunt Wolf’s margins. The NRSC’s ground game exceeded expectations. Wolf needed to run up a huge margin there if he had any chance of upsetting Johnson. But when Wolf and Roberts finished tied in that county, election watchers knew the race was over.
Wolf, who had trailed Roberts by 50 points when the race started, feverishly rallied down the stretch, hammering Roberts for not being a Kansas resident, which Roberts reinforced with an unforced error in a radio interview, in which he revealed that he only went back to Kansas when he had a primary opponent. Wolf closed the gap even though groups that endorsed him — like the Tea Party Patriots, the Senate Conservatives Fund, and the Madison Project — had invested much of their resources in Mississippi’s Senate runoff to support Chris McDaniel.
But when the Associated Press called the race three hours after polls closed (much later than anyone had expected), nobody would have blamed Wolf if he wondered what could have been had Smith and Zahnter not been in the race. Or if Kansas had a runoff.