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What's at stake for Big First District

For three-quarters of Kansas, here's an interesting little look at the just-under way campaign for the congressional seat in the Big First District.

For a quarter of Kansans living in the First District, well, watch what happens where you live.

The deal: Two-term U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., was elected in 2010 after surviving a six-candidate Republican primary election. He was a state senator before that, pretty well-known in his own district and in surrounding legislative districts. His congressional primary election in 2010 saw him get 34 percent of the vote, and he virtually was elected, having an R beside his name in the Republican-heavy (by percentage, we're not talking weight) First District.

Huelskamp campaigned hard and got 34,819 votes in that primary election. The other 65,164 votes were split unevenly among the five other candidates on the GOP ballot out west. He didn't get the majority of the primary vote -- that would have been 49,992 -- but he won the plurality and got the nomination.

Key here: The more Republican candidates on the primary election ballot, the fewer votes you need to win. Calculator ready? Theoretically, Huelskamp could have won the primary with as few as 16,665 votes, had every candidate gotten one-sixth of the vote and Huelskamp got a couple extras.

See what happens in primary elections? The more candidates, the fewer votes you need to win. In 2010, Huelskamp did get more than a third of the primary vote, not a bad showing, but nearly two-thirds of the votes went to other candidates.

And last year, he ran for election to a second term ... and there was no Republican primary opposition ... and no registered Democrat ran against him, so he virtually skated into a second term. We're figuring checking the Huelskamp box probably was quicker than writing-in, say, Beyonce.

Doesn't get much better than that if you are a freshman congressman running -- or with no opposition you could just walk into -- for a second term.

So, last week, former State Rep. Kent Roth, Ellinwood, a Democrat when he served in the Legislature but a registered Republican and U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., supporter for the last 21 years, decided to get into the GOP primary against Huelskamp.

Now is when it gets interesting.

If Roth can stay the only GOP challenger, the winner of the primary will need 51 percent of the GOP votes. And that at least partly (sure, there are other factors) turns the race into a Yes or No vote on Huelskamp since the congressman hasn't been tested at the ballot box since his 2010 primary win. What if the two-thirds of Republicans, or many of them, who didn't vote for Huelskamp in 2010 vote for Roth? Roth wins the primary and likely the general election.

See the key here: Roth is hoping to be the only other candidate on the primary ballot, and if you were Huelskamp, you'd probably be hoping for more candidates -- all he can get on the ballot. It's safer that way.

If you live in the First District, let us know if you get a box of bumper stickers with your name on them from Huelskamp for Christmas.

Syndicated by Hawver News Co. of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report. To learn more about this nonpartisan statewide political news service, visit www.hawvernews.com.