WICHITA, Kan. – A national tea party group that supported President Barack Obama’s constitutionalist cousin during his challenge of Kansas U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts threw its weight behind the incumbent on Monday.
The group, Tea Party Express, announced its endorsement of Roberts as the 78-year-old faces the toughest challenge of his political career against Greg Orman, a Kansas City-area businessman running as an Independent.
“[Pat Roberts] has been a reliable vote in the conservative movement for years,” Tea Party Express executive director Taylor Budowich told a crowd of about 50 supporters at the Kansas GOP headquarters in Wichita.
Budowich criticized the 45-year-old Orman as a liberal masquerading as an Independent, citing Orman’s refusal to state which party he will caucus with if elected as evidence that he’s too wishy-washy to be trusted.
The Roberts camp has made Orman’s past politics an issue as well, slamming him for past campaign donations to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Obama and Hillary Clinton and pointing out that Orman ran briefly against Roberts for Senate in 2008 as a Democrat.
Monday’s event was the second in as many weeks organized by the Roberts camp in what appears to be an attempt to reclaim conservative voters who may have lost interest in the candidate during the GOP primary.
Two conservative darlings – Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Oklahoma U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn – showed up in the Sunflower State last week to stump for Roberts as he kicked off a statewide bus tour.
Some staunch conservatives had become critical of Roberts during his primary battle against Wolf in which the challenger criticized Roberts over residency issues and for being what he called a “go along, get along” politician.
“For 2014 we’re about taking back the Senate,” Budowich told reporters after the event when asked about the switch from Wolf to Roberts.
“Milton Wolf is a great man, and we hope the voters of Kansas give him another shot,” he continued. “But so is Senator Pat Roberts. He’s been a solid conservative for so many years.”
One question hanging over the race is whether Wolf, a Kansas City-area radiologist, will endorse either candidate. While he stated on the campaign trail that he had voted for Roberts “many times” – making an endorsement of Roberts seem more likely than the alternative – rumors began circulating last month that he would throw his support behind Orman.
Wolf shot down that idea however, refuting it in a tweet. Regardless, he has not come out to back Roberts either.
“We’ve talked to him regularly since the campaign, but we’re here to do our own thing,” Budowich said when asked about his group’s interactions with Wolf.
Pressed on whether the group has talked to Wolf explicitly about a Roberts endorsement, Budowich told The Daily Caller, “I’m not going to get into that.”
“We are watching the race closely and will be active as necessary,” he told TheDC in a follow-up email. “We have not purchased any time as of today.”
Regardless of past alliances, Roberts said he was glad to have the group’s backing now.
“These folks, they have fire in the belly,” Roberts told reporters at Monday’s event. “If you’re going to lead the posse…you better have the tea party with you.”
Lois Angell, who voted for Wolf in the GOP primary in August, said that while she is “not enthusiastic” about voting for Roberts, she plans to cast a vote for him next month.
“I certainly will vote for Pat Roberts,” she said.
Polls released this month have been mixed. Two showed Orman with a healthy lead over Roberts – one had Orman leading by five points; another had the gap at 10 points. A poll released last week had Roberts a single point ahead of Orman. Another had the incumbent leading by five.