Lobbyists try to save Roberts

Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsPat Roberts joins lobbying firm weeks after Senate retirement Senate swears-in six new lawmakers as 117th Congress convenes Window quickly closing for big coronavirus deal MORE (R-Kan.) is leaning heavily on K Street as he tries to save the Senate seat he’s held for 18 years.

Roberts has been burning up the phone lines in a frantic bid to keep pace with Greg Orman, the wealthy self-funded independent who is leading the incumbent by 10 points, according to one poll released Sunday.


“The old man is raising 100 grand a day. I’m serious. Ask any lobbyist of anyone in Washington if they’ve gotten a call from Pat Roberts. He’s stepping up,” said one Republican source close to the campaign.

“It’s amazing what a little fear will do to somebody,” the source added.

A survey of prominent Republican lobbyists revealed that Roberts, the senior Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, is reaching far and wide to collect chits he’s earned over 34 years in Congress.

“I got a call from Pat; I was glad to get it. I think he’s a great senator. I’ve known Pat a long time. Nobody eats, breathes and lives Kansas like Pat,” said former Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.), who is now a lobbyist with Greenberg Traurig.

K Street is a valuable resource for Roberts but relying on it carries risks, when many voters have a sour view of Washington.  

Orman is worth between $21.5 million and $86 million, according to financial disclosure documents reviewed by The Kansas City Star, which will allow him to easily outspend Roberts in the campaign’s final stretch.

He has criticized Roberts for relying on “special interests.”

“Over four decades in Washington Pat Roberts has taken advantage of special interest largesse like no other Kansan has done before,” said Jim Jonas, Orman’s campaign manager in a press release. “The $8 million Pat Roberts has taken from PACs is part of why voters wonder whether Roberts is working for Kansans or the special interests in Washington.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee decided weeks ago that after helping Roberts it the GOP primary, it would not spend money in Kansas’s general election.

While the party committee may yet reverse course, it’s left Roberts to fend for himself in the meantime.

Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for the NRSC, declined to say if the committee would make a TV ad buy in the coming days to boost Roberts. The chairman, Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), faces an especially tough call because Roberts is his home-state colleague.

Roberts reported $1.45 million in his campaign account in mid-July, when he was locked in a bruising primary battle against conservative challenger Milton Wolf. 

Roberts picked up the pace in the final days of the 3rd quarter, which ended Sept. 30. The fundraising reports filed with the Federal Election Commission for that period will serve as an important gauge of his campaign later this month.  

Hutchinson said he got a call from his former colleague about a week ago and said it made little sense for the party committee not to jump into the race.

“It would be a big mistake if they don’t get in, because Pat’s a winner,” Hutchinson added.

A new NBC-Marist poll released on Sunday showed Orman had opened up a 10-point lead on Roberts, and only 37 percent of those polled had a positive opinion of the incumbent. Forty-seven percent gave a negative response.

Roberts has worked through his extensive Rolodex to convince potential donors he has changed the campaign’s momentum and is now trending up.  

“I got a call from him, and I’ve given all I can to help. I was doing it before the call, and it’s good to know he’s working hard,” said Matt Keelen, president of The Keelen Group and a major Republican fundraiser.

Keelen said Roberts told him “things are looking better on the ground. We’re outworking our opponent, and he’s confident we’ll come out ahead on Election Day.”

Roberts replaced his campaign manager with Corry Bliss in early September. Bliss did not respond to a request for comment.  

Roberts has reached back to relationships he made during his 16-year career in the House of Representatives to pick up the funding slack.

“Pat Roberts is an old friend. I served with him on the House Agriculture Committee and he did call me, and ask if we could help, and we will,” said former Rep. James Walsh (R-N.Y.), a government affairs counselor with K&L Gates.

“I don’t know who else has gotten calls but I suspect pretty much everyone has,” he added.  

Walsh said Roberts would be a key player in the 114th Congress if Republicans take control of the Senate, as some handicappers predict. He would be in line to take over as chairman of the Agriculture Committee.

“The Agriculture Committee is a working committee; they actually pass legislation, unlike a lot of other committees,” Walsh said. “Pat is as knowledgeable as anybody. He’s a key player. Kansas needs somebody like Pat.”

Over 18 years in the Senate, Roberts has developed a reputation as a loyal Republican soldier who cares more about delivering for his home state than sweeping ideological debates.

“He says, ‘A lot of senators are here to change the world. I’m here to raise the price of wheat in Dodge City,’ ” said Hutchinson, recalling a typical quip from Roberts, who is known among colleagues for his dry sense of humor.