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SPOTLIGHT
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The picture might become clearer

Published on -1/21/2014, 8:48 AM

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This might be the weekend when we get our first pretty solid feel for just what direction the Kansas Republican Party is headed: Conservative, or way, way conservative.

The event is Republican Kansas Day, of course, in Wichita as the party continues to move its biggest annual convention around the state's four congressional districts.

The real test here: How U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, who has been a GOP icon since the earth cooled enough to walk on, and Tea Party Republican Milton Wolf, Leawood, who hopes to unseat Roberts in the Republican primary election, work the Republican activist crowd.

Now, this could have been a simple pulse-taking, counting the number of Republican activists -- and these people are the "management level" Republicans who attend the state convention -- at each reception, watching their general demeanor and making a comparison.

But, Republicans of late don't make these things simple.

Wolf -- remember, he's the radiologist who is a distant cousin of Democrat President Barack Obama -- will have a reception from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday at the Hyatt Hotel where the convention is taking place. It'll be one of seven of those conventional walk-around receptions with coffee, rolls and maybe, if we get lucky, a bloody Mary or two.

Roberts, who traditionally has sponsored the after-the-Saturday-dinner "Coffee and Cordials" reception -- for those Republicans who spend the money for the convention's dinner gala -- will see a crowd that has thinned considerably, making a nose-count probably inaccurate.

So, it's going to be a weekend of watching Roberts and Wolf react with the several hundred Republicans who hang out together on the party's biggest weekend of the year.

Now, there aren't enough regular attendees of Republican Kansas Day to move the vote in a primary election. But those Kansas Day activists tend to be the GOP leaders in their communities, the people whom generally Republican voters see in the coffee shops and grocery stores, and occasionally, the country clubs, who can move votes.

After the weekend, we'll maybe have a feeling for whether Roberts, who tends like most Republicans to get more conservative, or at least more loudly conservative, in election years is as far to the right as Kansans are willing to go.

Remember, chances are slim either former Sens. Nancy Landon Kassebaum or Bob Dole could make it through a Republican primary election now.

Yes, there's the start of a party-rending contest going on in Wichita this coming weekend -- which probably is a dab uncomfortable for many Republicans.

And, it's a chance for Democrats -- who pay close attention to find out whether the GOP is moving farther to the right than many Kansans might be comfortable with -- to dream of picking up some Republican votes.

Syndicated by Hawver News Co. of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher

of Hawver's Capitol Report.

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