The Republican establishment scored a big victory Tuesday night.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp, one of the most conservative lawmakers in Congress, handily lost his primary to a more moderate challenger, becoming the fourth House incumbent defeated this cycle.
In a race that became a proxy fight for the GOP’s two warring wings, physician Roger Marshall triumphed over Huelskamp, leading 57 to 43 percent when the Associated Press called the race shortly after 11:20 p.m. and with 72 percent of precincts reporting.
Marshall’s victory in the solidly Republican 1st District likely assures him a spot in Congress next year.
He faces independent Alan LaPolice, who won 45 percent of the vote against Huelskamp in the 2014 GOP primary. LaPolice, who initially planned to run as a Republican again this year, dropped out of the GOP field in May, allowing anti-Huelskamp voters to consolidate around one option. No Democrat filed to run, but there is a Libertarian in the race.
The primary attracted nearly $2.8 million in outside spending and was a major win for establishment-aligned Republicans, who loathe Huelskamp and the House Freedom Caucus member’s confrontational style.
Super PACs affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Ending Spending shelled out nearly $1.5 million combined to boost Marshall, a political newcomer. Meanwhile, Huelskamp won outside help from the Club for Growth, whose super PAC spent more than $400,0000 on his behalf, a sizable sum in the district’s inexpensive media market.
"Governing was on the ballot in KS-1 and voters spoke clearly," Rob Engstrom, the Chamber's national political director, said in a statement Tuesday night.
Marshall made Huelskamp’s combativeness a central part of his pitch, casting himself as a more solutions-oriented conservative. As he ran in the heavily agrarian district, Marshall slammed the incumbent for his removal from the House Agriculture Committee in 2012 and his vote against the farm bill in 2014. Notably, Marshall picked up the endorsement of the Kansas Farm Bureau, a prominent agricultural group.
Huelskamp had said he was confident of returning to the Agriculture Committee now that he sits on the powerful Steering Committee that determines committee assignments.
“I’m not going to back down from protecting Kansas farmers,” Huelskamp told National Journal in January. “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’s defeat follows the losses earlier this year of two Republicans, Rep. Randy Forbes of Virginia and Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina, who both ran in radically redrawn districts under their state’s new congressional maps. In April, Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Chaka Fattah lost his primary, then resigned from the House in June following a federal racketeering conviction.
Huelskamp did not take the challenge lightly, though Marshall slightly outspent Huelskamp through the pre-primary reporting period, $849,000 to the incumbent’s $817,000, and outraised him by $168,000.
The primary took on an increasingly nasty turn in its final weeks.
One Huelskamp ad played a recording of a 911 call in 2008 from one of Marshall’s neighbors, who accused Marshall of almost running him over with his pickup truck. According to court records, Marshall pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor criminal case.
Marshall responded with an ad highlighting newspaper headlines critical of Huelskamp. However, they were excerpted from newspaper editorials, rather than coverage of the recent Huelskamp spot.
As the primary barreled toward the home stretch, polling pointed to a close race. A survey from the Docking Institute of Public Affairs from July 11-21 showed Huelskamp and Marshall in a dead heat, with 15 percent of voters undecided.
Huelskamp’s political career began in 1996, when he won a spot in the state Senate and became the youngest member in the chamber in 20 years. He quickly became one of the GOP’s most vocal rabble-rousers after his 2010 election. Two years later, that criticism led Speaker John Boehner to yank him from the Agriculture and Budget committees, a decision Huelskamp called “petty and vindictive.”
Huelskamp’s 1st District was represented by both of the state’s current senators, Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts. Former Sen. Bob Dole also held the seat in the 1960s.