A familiar face jumped into the First District congressional race Thursday, making it a three-Republican endurance run to an August 2016 primary.
Republican Alan LaPolice, who challenged U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp in a primary last year, made the announcement in an interview with the Topeka Capital-Journal before a kickoff event Thursday night at the VFW in Clyde.
LaPolice, 43, is a student retention specialist at Cloud County Community College in Concordia. He said he was compelled to make the announcement during a record-long session of the Kansas Legislature this week.
“I see grown men and women folding their arms and pushing an agenda. It’s dysfunctional,” LaPolice said in an interview Thursday morning. “This is what Tim did at the national level. Tim shut our federal government down.”
LaPolice garnered 35,108 votes to Huelskamp’s 42,847 in the Aug. 5, 2014, primary. Huelskamp went on to defeat Democrat Jim Sherow and win a third term in Congress.
“Last cycle, I ran a slow-growing, seven-month campaign. In this race, I’m going to rectify that,” LaPolice said. “I have the resources now. I have a foundation now.”
Chapman Rackaway, a political science professor at Fort Hays State University, said LaPolice’s effort in 2014 showed a candidate with relatively little time and money could compete with Huelskamp.
“LaPolice’s emergence was an example of how beatable Huelskamp is,” Rackaway said. “In November, you had a lot of people thinking, ‘I should give it a shot.’ ”
Federal Election Commission disclosure forms showed LaPolice’s campaign had $3,495 on hand at the end of March and hadn’t raised money since last year’s primary. LaPolice raised $161,603 during his race against Huelskamp last year.
On May 22, Huelskamp formally filed as a candidate for the state’s First District, the large swath of western and central Kansas he has represented since the start of 2011. Huelskamp’s campaign committee, Kansans for Huelskamp, raised $143,578.25 in the first three months of 2015 and had $607,178.81 on hand at the end of March, according to FEC filings.
On May 26, Republican Roger Marshall, an obstetrician and gynecologist from Great Bend, formally announced he would challenge the incumbent. When asked Thursday if a three-way race could split the anti-incumbent votes and favor Huelskamp, LaPolice said he didn’t believe so.
“I think that Congressman Huelskamp is going to have to defend his record, and two challengers will bring more attention to that,” LaPolice said. “He can’t duck Dr. Marshall and I both. We have to have debates now, we have all this time. So I welcome Dr. Marshall.”
Rackaway, however, said the entrance of more candidates aids the incumbent.
“(Huelskamp) would love to have another five or six-person primary like you had in 2010,” Rackaway said.
In an email Thursday, Kansans for Huelskamp spokesman Mark Kelly touted the tea party congressman’s record.
“Congressman Huelskamp is focused on getting conservative things done for Kansas,” Kelly said. “The Congressman was successful in his efforts to improve veterans’ health care. And, Congressman Huelskamp recently worked to pass bills he sponsored in the House to repeal the death tax, stop EPA’s radical Waters of the United States rule, roll back the listing of the lesser prairie chicken and prohibit late-term abortions.”
Marshall, who has thus far been hesitant to criticize his opponents, said in an email Thursday he is running for Congress “to change America and stop the current path we are on.”
“I really hesitate to comment on any of the politics of the race,” Marshall said. “The reality is, I am running for Congress, not against anyone. I have tremendous respect for Mr. LaPolice and his past campaign, but that is not why I am running.”
LaPolice said he outperformed Huelskamp last year in counties where he was able to shake hands and deliver his message.
“If I continue along that trajectory, if I meet and listen to people and make myself visible, I think that’s the formula for success,” LaPolice said.
Name recognition and travel times can pose a challenge for candidates going up against an incumbent who prides himself on attending hundreds of town hall meetings across the large, rural First District, Rackaway said. Marshall embarked on a four-day, 1,200-mile tour after his announcement last month.
“As I have traveled the district and visited with voters, I know they are ready for a change in leadership and I am confident we will put together a winning campaign,” Marshall said Thursday.
Candidates have until June 2016 to file a statement of candidacy for the congressional seat. The primary election will be in August 2016, and the general election in November 2016.
When asked to name an issue or manner in which he differs from Huelskamp, LaPolice said “everything.”
“I’m in this race to strengthen America. You don’t do that by lobbing bombs and burning the house down,” LaPolice said. “I’m more of a carpenter. I build things up.”
In December 2012, Huelskamp was stripped of his seat on the House Agriculture Committee after a number of disagreements with Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio. It marked the first time in more than a century Kansas hadn’t had a member on the panel devoted to federal farm issues.
The congressman’s removal was criticized by both of his opponents last year. LaPolice said Thursday he still believes it is an issue that resonates with voters.
“I don’t follow or believe in his approach to government,” LaPolice said. “Government serves a role in our lives, and anyone who says it doesn’t is selling snake oil. I don’t believe anything Tim has done has been effective.”
In his response, Kelly said Huelskamp has the continued support of First District voters.
“Alan LaPolice and Roger Marshall may spend their time attacking Congressman Huelskamp, but we believe the voters support his principled conservative results,” Kelly said.
Huelskamp is the second Kansas congressional incumbent to file for re-election in 2016. Rep. Kevin Yoder, a Republican from the state’s Third District in eastern Kansas, filed a statement of candidacy April 20. No candidates have filed to run for Kansas’ Second District, held by Rep. Lynn Jenkins, or Fourth District, held by Rep. Mike Pompeo.
Asked Thursday whether he expects more candidates to challenge Huelskamp, Rackaway said he is doubtful.
“It is possible, though I would say not likely,” Rackaway said.