Milton Wolf, President Barack Obama's second cousin once removed, is likely to face an uphill challenge if he goes ahead with a Republican primary challenge to U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.).
Wolf, a tea party Republican and physician opposed to Obamacare, may be considering a primary challenge to Roberts in 2014, Politico reported Thursday night. Wolf sent an email to Republican activists touting his opposition to Obamacare, along with stressing the need for more senators like Kentucky Republican Rand Paul and Texas Republican Ted Cruz.
While the Kansas GOP has taken a sharp turn to the right in the last few years, party leaders said that Roberts is not vulnerable to a challenge from the tea party.
"Absolutely not," state Rep. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina), a leader of young conservative Republican legislators, told The Huffington Post when asked if Wolf had a chance against Roberts. "Pat Roberts has represented me and my family since I was two years old, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. Pat Roberts is not only an excellent representative of the people of Kansas, he is one of us. His history shows that he represents the people, the ideology. Frankly, he is beloved in Kansas."
The shift in Kansas politics was evident last year. Conservative Republicans, led by Gov. Sam Brownback (R) and aided by third-party groups including the Koch brothers-aligned Americans for Prosperity, took most moderate Republicans out of the state Legislature and seized control of the state government.
While there had been rumblings in Kansas political circles that Roberts could face the same type of tea party-inspired challenge that felled former Sens. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) and Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) in recent years, a high-profile contender has failed to materialize. Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), the most likely challenger, has endorsed Roberts. Claeys dismissed the discussion as "rumors."
In his email to Republican activists, provided to HuffPost, Wolf took a tea party swing at Roberts. Among other complaints, Wolf criticized the senator for his vote to confirm Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a former Kansas governor now unpopular in the state for working on Obamacare.
The email did not specifically say Wolf was running for Senate, but urged voters to email if they thought "we need more Ted Cruzes and Mike Lees and Rand Pauls."
State Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady (R-Palco), a conservative leader, told HuffPost that Roberts has been a frequent presence around the state and has been working to protect himself politically from a tea party challenge. Couture-Lovelady said that if Roberts were to become Senate Agriculture Committee chairman, it would help Kansas.
"There are a lot of good things that could come for Kansas from that," Couture-Lovelady said. "Kansas does not have a lot of seniority; we have a lot of new people. Pat Roberts has a lot of pull in Washington -- where seniority means a lot, especially coming from a smaller state."
University of Kansas political science professor Burdett Loomis, a longtime observer of state politics, said that while Roberts could be vulnerable based on his long career in Washington, he has worked to unify the GOP behind him next year. He said top Republicans "don't want any disruptions" in the party in the 2014 election, which will also feature Brownback seeking reelection.
Wolf did not return messages left for comment.
Kansas Republican Party Executive Director Clayton Barker told HuffPost that the party does not take a position in contested primaries, but said that party leaders have been getting messages of support for Roberts in recent days.
"The comments we are getting -- once Milton Wolf hinted that he may run -- are overwhelming for Roberts," Barker said. "Some of it is anti-Wolf, and most is pro-Roberts."