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Moran Squeaks By Tiahrt in Kansas Senate Race

Updated: Aug. 4, 1:36 a.m.

Rep. Jerry Moran just barely defeated Rep. Todd Tiahrt on Tuesday in the Kansas GOP Senate primary, making the seven-term lawmaker the heavy favorite to become the Sunflower State’s junior Senator next year.

Moran, who maintained a strong lead in polling and fundraising throughout the race, garnered 49 percent of the vote to Tiahrt’s 45 percent, with 88 percent of precincts reporting. Kansas was the only state where two Congressmen were squaring off in a Senate race this cycle.

Tiahrt had the backing of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, although the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee did not do anything other than lend a Facebook-posted endorsement to his campaign. Among those in Moran’s corner were Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Palin’s running mate; and Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.), who campaigned for Moran one month ago.

Moran sought to make Tiahrt’s service on the Appropriations Committee one of the central issues of the campaign, and he routinely railed against what he argued is a culture of overspending in Washington, D.C., that plagues both parties.

Tiahrt argued that Moran is not conservative enough, that he waffles on important decisions and that he is not as aggressive a fighter for issues he believes in. But even though Tiahrt’s campaign never seemed to catch fire and polls consistently showed him trailing by double digits, he maintained that his grass-roots support was stronger than Moran’s and not being accurately reflected in surveys.

Kansas Democrats have not won a Senate seat since 1932, and the November contest will be a cakewalk for Moran. The Congressman is all but assured to succeed Sen. Sam Brownback, who easily won the state’s GOP gubernatorial primary Tuesday and is the prohibitive favorite to win in November.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Tim Huelskamp won the open-seat 1st district GOP primary, and he is all but certain to replace Moran in the House next year.

Huelskamp rose to the top in a crowded field that included state Sen. Jim Barnett, real estate developer Tracey Mann and former Brownback Chief of Staff Rob Wasinger. Barnett, a practicing physician who also ran against then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius in 2006, raised the most money in the primary.

Huelskamp is a well-known social conservative. In an ad in July, he said that he was kicked off the state Senate’s Ways and Means Committee because of his fiscal conservatism.

In the 4th district open-seat race, businessman Mike Pompeo is on his way toward replacing Tiahrt in the House. Pompeo survived a nasty primary, defeating state Sen. Jean Schodorf and businessman Wink Hartman. With 94 percent counted, he led with nearly 39 percent of the vote.

Pompeo and Hartman lit up the Wichita-area airwaves over the summer, and Schodorf surged late in the race. Pompeo noted that Hartman has been registered to vote in Florida, where he has a vacation home, while Hartman accused Pompeo of shipping Kansans’ jobs to Mexico. Schodorf, who supports abortion rights, set herself apart as a moderate rising above the fray.

Pompeo will face state Rep. Raj Goyle. Democrats are high on Goyle, but he has a steep climb: The south-central Kansas district gave McCain 58 percent of its vote in 2008.

In the 3rd district, Republican state Rep. Kevin Yoder will face nurse Stephene Moore in what is likely to be the state’s only competitive general election race. Yoder defeated former state Rep. Patricia Lightner, his closest competitor in the nine-way primary, 45 percent to 37 percent.

Moore is the wife of retiring Rep. Dennis Moore, who was a Republican target every cycle since he defeated a Republican incumbent in 1998.

In the 2nd district, freshman Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R) won her primary against state Sen. Dennis Pyle.

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