Less than a week before the Republican primary in Kansas’ 1st Congressional District, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has thrown its support behind physician Roger Marshall in his bid next week to defeat Rep. Tim Huelskamp.
The chamber’s political arm is spending $200,000 on ads to support Marshall and another $200,000 on ads to oppose Huelskamp. Huelskamp, first elected in the tea party wave of 2010, is a rare Republican whom the chamber is working to defeat.
“I can’t think of an example where we have actively and aggressively opposed a Republican incumbent in Congress,” said Rob Engstrom, the chamber’s national political director.
Tuesday’s “Big First” race is one of the most competitive primaries in the country. The candidates are in a virtual tie when it comes to polls and fundraising.
Before landing the chamber’s endorsement this week, Marshall had gained the backing of agricultural groups dissatisfied with Huelskamp’s record, including the Kansas Livestock Association and the Kansas Farm Bureau.
Marshall campaign spokesman Eric Pahls said it was honored to receive the chamber’s support.
“Hardworking Kansas farmers, ranchers and small business owners have resoundingly chosen Dr. Roger Marshall as the man they trust to fight for them in Washington, not against them,” Pahls said in a statement Thursday.
Meanwhile, Huelskamp campaign spokesman Jim Keady noted an endorsement by the National Federation of Independent Business.
“The 1st District of Kansas is home to thousands of small businesses,” Keady said in a statement, “and that’s why the most important business endorsement is the NFIB.”
In another statement Wednesday, the campaign touted Huelskamp’s endorsement by Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Huelskamp finds himself at odds with the chamber on a variety of issues. He scored 60 out of 100 on the group’s legislative scorecard last year, the lowest of any member of the Kansas delegation and lower than many Democrats. His career score in Congress, 67, is below the minimum the chamber usually requires for an endorsement.
“For him to be at 67 percent is far outside of the mainstream,” Engstrom said.
Last year, Huelskamp voted against reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank, a federal credit agency that helps U.S. companies export their goods overseas. Conservatives call it a form of “crony capitalism” that props up large companies such as Boeing.
He was one of 65 Republicans to oppose the FAST Act, the first long-term transportation reauthorization bill in a decade. Republican Reps. Kevin Yoder and Mike Pompeo of Kansas also voted against it.
Huelskamp also opposed budget and spending bills the chamber supported. He opposes a comprehensive immigration overhaul that includes a path to citizenship for those who are in the U.S. illegally.
He voted against the farm bill in 2014. Every other member of the Kansas delegation except for Sen. Jerry Moran opposed it as well, including Roberts.
Huelskamp is part of a group of hard-line conservatives in Congress called the Freedom Caucus. In 2013, many of these lawmakers forced a government shutdown by insisting that Congress defund President Barack Obama’s signature health care law as a condition of keeping the government open.
But probably no subject has rankled business interests in Kansas more than Huelskamp’s removal from the House Agriculture Committee in a 2012 showdown with then-Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Boehner resigned from Congress last year, and Huelskamp has expressed confidence in returning to the committee under Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.
Engstrom said Huelskamp had approached the chamber twice about an endorsement, once in April and again in June.
Engstrom said the effort against Huelskamp had nothing to do with his fractious relationship with Boehner.
“It’s not about a vote for speaker,” Engstrom said.
Keady said Huelskamp had met with the chamber twice in four months “to discuss issues.”
“In the meantime,” Keady said, “Huelskamp has had dozens of conversations with Kansas businesses, local chambers and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.”
How the U.S. Chamber of Commerce rates lawmakers from Kansas
Sen. Pat Roberts: 92
Sen. Jerry Moran: 87
Rep. Lynn Jenkins: 88
Rep. Kevin Yoder: 87
Rep. Mike Pompeo: 78
Rep. Tim Huelskamp: 67
Source: U.S. Chamber of Commerce