Down on the Farm, but Not Out 

Rep. Tim Huelskamp is angling for a spot again on the House Agriculture Committee, but will it come in time? 

Then-House Speaker John Boehner administers a reenactment of the House oath to Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, with his family, in 2015.
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin
Kimberly Railey
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Kimberly Railey
Jan. 10, 2016, 8 p.m.

By Au­gust, Rep. Tim Huel­skamp could be­come the rare tea-party-backed con­gress­man to lose a primary in a con­ser­vat­ive dis­trict—or he could be un­ex­pec­tedly saved by House Speak­er Paul Ry­an.

Three years after he was yanked from the House Ag­ri­cul­ture Com­mit­tee, the Kan­sas Re­pub­lic­an landed a spot last month on the power­ful pan­el in charge of com­mit­tee as­sign­ments, which was re­or­gan­ized by the new speak­er. Already one of the House’s most vo­cal in­tern­al crit­ics, Huel­skamp has a new­found level of in­flu­ence.

The ques­tion is to what ex­tent that will help in his sprawl­ing Kan­sas dis­trict, where Re­pub­lic­ans say he is fa­cing his toughest primary yet. 

“Right now, it is a truly con­tested primary,” said Clay Bark­er, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Kan­sas Re­pub­lic­an Party. He gives Huel­skamp a slight edge, “but I wouldn’t call this one de­cided by any stretch.”

Ro­ger Mar­shall, a phys­i­cian, has out­raised the in­cum­bent in each of the past two fun­drais­ing quar­ters. Also run­ning is Alan LaPo­lice, who lost to Huel­skamp in the 2014 primary by a mar­gin of less than 8,000 votes. That put the con­gress­man’s con­ser­vat­ive al­lies on no­tice while stok­ing op­pon­ents’ op­tim­ism that he’s ripe for de­feat this time.

After the 2012 elec­tions, Huel­skamp, who has long been known as a GOP rabble-rouser, was stripped of his as­sign­ments on both Ag and the Budget Com­mit­tee after vot­ing against Ry­an’s budget pro­pos­al, among oth­er things. Farm­ing is a top pri­or­ity in his rur­al dis­trict in West­ern Kan­sas—a seat pre­vi­ously held by both cur­rent sen­at­ors, Jerry Mor­an and Pat Roberts, as well as Bob Dole in the 1960s.

The three-term con­gress­man says he’s now con­fid­ent he will re­gain his Ag­ri­cul­ture post by the next Con­gress, but it may be too late. Mar­shall has already locked up the sup­port of one key ag­ri­cul­ture group, the Kan­sas Live­stock As­so­ci­ation, which re­fused to en­dorse Huel­skamp last cycle.

“There’s a gen­er­al feel­ing in Kan­sas ag­ri­cul­ture that we don’t want to have one more farm bill without hav­ing a voice in the com­munity,” said Aaron Popelka of the Kan­sas Live­stock As­so­ci­ation.

The in­flu­en­tial Kan­sas Farm Bur­eau also stayed out of the 2014 race after Huel­skamp angered farm­ers by vot­ing against the farm bill that year. War­ren Park­er, dir­ect­or of the bur­eau’s policy com­mu­nic­a­tions, said con­cerns linger about Huel­skamp but it’s too early to spec­u­late about whom the group will en­dorse. Its re­com­mend­a­tion is ex­pec­ted in the spring or early sum­mer. The primary is Aug. 2.

In an in­ter­view with Na­tion­al Journ­al, Huel­skamp, who was raised on a farm and holds a Ph.D in polit­ic­al sci­ence with a fo­cus on ag­ri­cul­ture policy, de­fen­ded his re­cord on ag­ri­cul­tur­al is­sues and said he be­lieves he will re­turn to the com­mit­tee on his own terms.

“I’m not go­ing to back down from pro­tect­ing Kan­sas farm­ers,” Huel­skamp said. “I am not go­ing to give up my vot­ing card. I’m wor­ried about the [En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency], rather than the en­dorse­ment of groups back home.”

Huel­skamp won a spot on the House Steer­ing Com­mit­tee in Decem­ber after Ry­an cre­ated six new at-large seats. He is a mem­ber of the con­ser­vat­ive House Free­dom Caucus, which pushed for former Speak­er John Boehner’s resig­na­tion and called on Ry­an to re­turn the House to reg­u­lar or­der and al­ter the way com­mit­tee as­sign­ments are doled out—and taken away.

Des­pite Huel­skamp’s new po­s­i­tion — he was also named chair­man of a House Small Busi­ness sub­com­mit­tee Fri­day — and the pos­sib­il­ity that he re­turns to the Ag Com­mit­tee, his op­pon­ents say it hardly mat­ters.

“We didn’t have a voice when we had him on there,” LaPo­lice said.

Mar­shall cam­paign man­ager Brent Robertson said, “While Huel­skamp has been play­ing polit­ics in D.C., Ro­ger has been work­ing back home.”

Huel­skamp re­tains a not­able but shrink­ing ad­vant­age in the race. Mar­shall out­raised Huel­skamp in the second and third quar­ters—and con­trib­uted about $84,000 of his own money—but Huel­skamp had $700,000 in cash on hand to Mar­shall’s $192,000 and LaPo­lice’s $13,000 as of Sept. 30. Fourth-quarter fig­ures are due to the Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion on Jan. 31.

A chief con­cern among the anti-Huel­skamp camp is its abil­ity to co­alesce around a single can­did­ate. LaPo­lice said he has been ap­proached about drop­ping out, but he de­clined to provide fur­ther de­tails.  

The Now or Nev­er PAC, which spent nearly $234,000 op­pos­ing Huel­skamp in 2014, said it won’t in­vest this time around. But some Re­pub­lic­ans say the donors from that ef­fort could still chan­nel their money to a dif­fer­ent out­fit will­ing to tar­get him again.

The ma­jor fun­der be­hind Now or Nev­er, Cecil O’Brate, has giv­en $2,500 to Mar­shall’s bid. O’Brate “will con­tin­ue to sup­port Dr. Mar­shall through the dur­a­tion of the 2016 cam­paign,” his spokes­man H.J. Swender said.

Na­tion­al Re­view re­por­ted re­cently the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce may also in­clude Huel­skamp among its top tar­gets, with seni­or polit­ic­al strategist Scott Reed call­ing Mar­shall an “im­press­ive can­did­ate” but em­phas­iz­ing the group had made no de­cisions about the race. Mar­shall has met with the cham­ber, his cam­paign said.

The Kan­sas chapter of the Cham­ber of Com­merce counts Huel­skamp as an ally. “He’s been great for us to work with,” said Eric Stafford, the group’s vice pres­id­ent of gov­ern­ment af­fairs.

Con­ser­vat­ive groups such as the Club for Growth are also watch­ing the race closely and say they’re pre­pared to help Huel­skamp as needed. Freedom­Works PAC en­dorsed Huel­skamp in Septem­ber, and its in­de­pend­ent-ex­pendit­ure arm spent $47,000 the fol­low­ing month on a TV ad in sup­port of Huel­skamp.

While it’s Huel­skamp’s com­bat­ive­ness that led to his com­mit­tee ban­ish­ments, sup­port­ers in the state say it’s that style that will ul­ti­mately serve him well.

“In­cum­bency comes with a lot of ad­vant­ages,” said Re­pub­lic­an state Rep. J.R. Claeys, who plans to en­dorse Huel­skamp. “Not to men­tion, when it comes to elec­tion time, and politi­cians make cam­paign prom­ises, Con­gress­man Huel­skamp did ex­actly what he said he would do.”

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