Tiahrt, Moran fight over conservative cred to replace Brownback

GOP Rep. Todd Tiahrt has ramped up attacks on his longtime House colleague Rep. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranMcConnell works to salvage tax bill GOP in furious push for tax-reform votes Overnight Tech: Lawmakers want answers on Uber breach | Justices divided in patent case | Tech makes plea for net neutrality on Cyber Monday MORE in the internecine fight to replace Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback.

The battle to join the club of 100 across the dome from their current perches has been nasty and getting nastier with both men vying to appeal to the most conservative in their party. Brownback announced his intention to retire at the end of his term, as he pursues a bid for governor of Kansas.

Tiahrt accused Moran of pulling a “John KerryJohn Forbes KerryLobbying world Kerry: Trump not pursuing 'smart' or 'clever' plan on North Korea Tillerson will not send high-ranking delegation to India with Ivanka Trump: report MORE” on a signature issue for core conservatives: the Bush tax cuts.  

“He voted against the tax cut before he voted for it, so, he pulled a John Kerry,” Tiahrt said calmly on Thursday.

Tiahrt’s camp, currently down in the polls and behind in the money race, insists on pointing out “comparisons” between the candidates, and in doing so last month calling Moran a liar over his record. 

"Whether it is hiding from his own record on earmarks in Wichita, deceiving people … or running from various fights in Washington, Jerry Moran cannot be trusted,” according to a press release issued by Tiahrt’s campaign spokeswoman Michelle Schroeder April 12 entitiled “Tiahrt Campaign Responds to Latest Lie From Moran.” 

Asked to justify that release, in an interview on Thursday Tiahrt told The Hill that he “never” called Moran a liar. But, the Kansan added, “I’d say he’s disingenuous.”

For his part, Moran, who has a double-digit lead on Tiahrt in a private poll conducted recently with voters in a hotly contested area of the state, tries to stay above the fray.

The seven-term lawmaker representing Kansas’s sprawling first district, derided as “folksy” by Tiahrt, told The Hill, “I think it’s more hurtful, harmful to spouses and children. I really make a point of not reading the blogs and e-mail stuff that’s out there. I work hard at having a campaign about me running for Senate -- what I believe I can offer Kansans and a lot less about making comparisons or negative comments about an opponent.”

According to the nonpartisan Cook political report, Kansas is in the solid Republican column, so whoever wins the GOP primary will likely be the state’s next U.S. senator.

Kansas Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsSenate passes tax overhaul, securing major GOP victory Top GOP senators say they have the votes to pass tax bill The Hill's Whip List: Where Republicans stand on Senate tax bill MORE (R) said primary battles are brutal but that both Tiahrt and Moran signed a “unity pledge” stating that the loser of the primary will support the GOP victor in the general election.

“Politics is not beanbag, and it gets even worse to some degree when you get into a primary and hand grenades (are lobbed) because it’s a family affair, and so anytime you have family squabble it has a megaphone effect,” Roberts said in an interview with The Hill.

According to several sources close to both Tiahrt and Moran, the two politicians have never been particularly close friends.

With major gains to make before the Aug. 3 primary voting day, Tiahrt is not likely to relent on his attacks of Moran, longtime Kansas University political science professor Burdett “Bird” Loomis said.

“Tiahrt reflects this kind of a bare-knuckles, pretty nasty social conservatism that is certainly a substantial part of Kansas politics,” Loomis said.

Loomis, who wrote a book about Kansas politics in the 1980s, said that Moran, who hasn’t had to run in particulary difficult races to date, has put up a good fight though.

“Jerry Moran is from this big first district of western Kansas; he polls extremely well there. They are very loyal and they are probably the most conventional Republicans in the state, more of the Bob Dole, Pat Roberts, old-line conservative but not social conservative variety,” Loomis noted.  

Both gentlemen have ramped up their endorsements in recent months, with Moran attempting to parade his social conservative bona fides in the form of celebrity-esque would-be Senate colleagues.

Moran, leading in the polls and the money race, has trotted out social conservative hero and former House colleague Sen. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnFormer GOP senator: Trump has a personality disorder Lobbying World -trillion debt puts US fiscal house on very shaky ground MORE (Okla.) and touts his endorsements from like-minded Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.), Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Overnight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids Dems push for more money for opioid fight MORE (S.D.), Sen. Mike JohannsMike JohannsFarmers, tax incentives can ease the pain of a smaller farm bill Lobbying World To buy a Swiss company, ChemChina must pass through Washington MORE (Neb.) and Rep. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Sasse: RNC help for Roy Moore 'doesn't make any sense' Sasse calls RNC decision to resume support for Moore 'bad' and 'sad' MORE (Ariz.).

Tiarht dismissed Moran’s endorsement of Tea Party heroes Coburn and DeMint as a “roommate thing.” Moran is one of several lawmakers who rents a room in the infamous “C St.” house, with DeMint, Coburn and scandal-plagued Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Gov. Mark Sanford (S.C.) when he served in the lower chamber.

Tiahrt made a point of noting that Coburn’s endorsement and visit to Kansas on behalf of Moran came after Oklahoma’s junior senator ticked off the conservative talk radio world when he said Speaker Nancy Pelosi was “nice.”

“[Moran] had Coburn come in right after [Coburn] said, you shouldn’t treat Pelosi so badly, she’s a very nice woman and you’ve gotta quit getting your news from Fox. He came in the very next week,” Tiahrt said, noting that Oklahoma’s senior Sen. Jim Inhofe (R) was set to campaign for him this upcoming week.

Loomis explained that Tiahrt, known for his long-held social conservative beliefs on such issues as abortion and guns that are important to the party's right in Kansas, has been irked by Moran’s attempt to take that title from him.

“Tiahrt is unhappy that Moran’s trying to come onto his turf with social conservatism and he’s fighting back in a tough-minded way - certainly he is the one that the hardcore would identify with,” Loomis said.

Tiahrt intends to have his own caravan of high-profile social conservative endorsers come to the state as well, including fellow GOP House Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), who endorsed Tiahrt in mid-April.

He just released a radio ad cut by spiritual leader and Focus on the Family founder Dr. James Dobson, who as “a private citizen” endorsed Tiarht for his staunch defense “of the unborn” and “standing up for traditional marriage.”

Tiahrt also has the backing of his anti-abortion rights colleagues such as Reps. Chris Smith (N.J.), Joe Pitts (Pa.) and Pence.

“Based on our long relationship and my admiration for his conservative values I was pleased to support him,” Pence, the third-ranking Hosue Republican, told The Hill.

The candidates have agreed to do at least two formal debates in July.