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Tea Party Rep. Tim Huelskamp Defeated In Kansas Primary


Last night there was a surprise in the Kansas primary that has implications for Congress. In the first congressional district in western Kansas, Republican Congressman Tim Huelskamp lost badly. Huelskamp is a Tea Party leader in his third term in Congress who helped shut down Congress in 2013 and oust Speaker John Boehner last year. Peggy Lowe of member station KCUR reports.

PEGGY LOWE, BYLINE: Just a half hour after polls closed last night and the vote count was already showing him behind, the legendary Huelskamp fire flared. He kicked reporters out of what he hoped would be his victory party. And when he finally came out after his concession speech, he Huelskamp talked to station KWCH.


TIM HUELSKAMP: This is my event. It's not the media's event. And you all refused to cover the fact that millions of dollars of super PACs were coming in.

LOWE: Super PACs dropped nearly $3 million into the race, mostly painting Huelskamp as a Washington insider who had lost touch with his district. The ads were created by the many enemies Huelskamp made during his six years in Congress. Along with his fellow Tea Partiers, he helped shut down the government in 2013 and oust House Speaker John Boehner last year.

STACEY FORSHEE: A lot of our frustrations honestly started with no representation on the Ag Committee.

LOWE: Stacey Forshee of the Kansas Farm Bureau points to Huelskamp's biggest sin - getting kicked off the House Ag Committee by Boehner back in 2012. It was retribution for Huelskamp's refusal to back Republican leaders. Out here in the district called The Big First where agriculture is big business, that was a fatal move, and Roger Marshall, an obstetrician and political outsider, saw an opening.

ROGER MARSHALL: Seventy percent of the economy in my district is driven by agriculture. We're the breadbasket of the world. We have more cattle than people.

LOWE: The powerful agricultural lobby turned on Huelskamp. Farmers were angry about his vote against the 2014 farm bill and his lack of support for a billion-dollar federal animal research center being built in the district. The conservative Republicans who held the seat before him, including Senator Bob Dole, knew how to talk about cutting taxes and limiting government, says Emporia State political scientist Michael Smith. But they also knew they needed to bring home federal funds.

MICHAEL SMITH: I think there's still some gaps left in the old-school politics where you take care of your district.

LOWE: The amount of outside money, which has been well-reported, was surprising in such a small district. While the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sided with Marshall, the Koch brothers gave to Huelskamp. Marshall thinks Huelskamp's negative ads also helped contribute to his win.

MARSHALL: Kansans do not speak ill will of other people. We don't brag. We're not proud. We're peacemakers. And when he went negative and sort of throwing mud, our numbers started going up.

LOWE: With no Democrat in the race, Marshall is likely heading to Washington next year. Some who had run-ins with Huelskamp in Congress were watching the results with glee last night - case in point - a tweeted photo of House Speaker John Boehner, his usual glass of red wine held high. For NPR News, I'm Peggy Lowe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peggy Lowejoined Harvest Public Media in 2011, returning to the Midwest after 22 years as a journalist in Denver and Southern California. Most recently she was at The Orange County Register, where she was a multimedia producer and writer. In Denver she worked for The Associated Press, The Denver Post and the late, great Rocky Mountain News. She was on the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news coverage of Columbine. Peggy was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan in 2008-09. She is from O'Neill, the Irish Capital of Nebraska, and now lives in Kansas City. Based at KCUR, Peggy is the analyst for The Harvest Network and often reports for Harvest Public Media.