A crowded field expected for Rep. Tiahrt’s seat

Kansas legislator Dick Kelsey may be the first Republican to seek Rep. Todd Tiahrt’s (R) seat, but GOP observers say he will not be the front-runner in what is expected to be a crowded field.

Several other prominent Sunflower State Republicans are considering jumping in the race, and a number of those candidates are better positioned to win, according to Kansas sources.

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Kelsey, a state senator, confirmed to The Hill that he is running and plans to make his campaign official on Friday, now that it appears certain that Tiahrt will seek Sen. Sam Brownback’s (R) seat in 2010. Brownback has announced he will not seek reelection.

“It’s something that’s been in the works for a long time,” Kelsey said. “We had to wait for Todd to make a definite announcement, but the campaign is far along already.”

Kelsey also said that he is already willing to put $250,000 of his own money into the race “for starters,” and that he is well-positioned.

“I have the business connections,” he said. “I have the religious connections and I have the activist connections, and I have the money to run a campaign.”

But more than one state party source, all of whom requested anonymity to discuss the field candidly, said Kelsey, who was first elected to the state legislature in 2004, is a newcomer to politics with little organization. Other Republicans, these sources said, are better positioned to run in the district, which has a strong contingent of religious conservatives. Fifty-eight percent of the Wichita-based district voted for GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainJeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay Budowsky: Would John McCain back impeachment? MORE (Ariz.) in 2008.

State Sen. Susan Wagle is one Republican who already had a political operation in place. In 2006, Wagle was the party’s nominee for lieutenant governor. Wagle told The Hill that she is considering a run and that she is prepared for another race.

“It’s under consideration,” she said. “A lot of people are calling me and encouraging me. I’m still looking at it. My greatest advantage is I have been elected for 18 years. I have been through nine elections, so I have a very strong base of supporters.”

Other possible contenders include Republican National Committeeman Mike Pompeo and Wichita City Councilwoman Susan Schlapp, both of whom said they are considering it. Schlapp said her son, Matt Schlapp, who was President George W. Bush’s director of political affairs, might run.

“At some point he’s going to get back into politics,” Schlapp said. Schlapp also said that she thinks either she or her son would mount a formidable campaign and that she “doesn’t see raising money as a problem.”

Melvin Kahn, a political scientist at Wichita State University, said Schlapp’s son would immediately become a favorite if he jumped into the race.

“Wagle, Matt Schlapp and Pompeo would be the top tier at this time,” Kahn said. “If he got into it, Matt Schlapp would be the strongest candidate.”

Matt Schlapp did not return calls seeking comment.

Kelsey was undeterred when told others believe there are stronger candidates considering the race.

“I would contend that I’m as big a name as any of those,” he said.

Other Republicans who are reportedly considering runs include state Sen. Carolyn McGinn, state Rep. Steve Brunk and state Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt.

And there still remains the possibility that Tiahrt could give up his Senate run and return to his House seat, said Joseph Aistrup, a political scientist at Kansas State University. Tiahrt is currently expected to face off against fellow Rep. Jerry MoranGerald (Jerry) MoranThe Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by AdvaMed — House panel delays impeachment vote until Friday McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug bill Senators inch forward on federal privacy bill MORE in the Republican primary for the Senate seat, which Aistrup said would be very risky for both of them.

“I anticipate that either Tiahart or Moran will reconsider their apparent contested primary for U.S. senator,” Aistrup said. “If one gets the jump on fundraising and has a clear lead in the polls, I think that the other will drop out and continue as a member of the House.

"Both Moran and Tiahrt are in safe seats. Both still want to be in Washington. So I think that this little game of chicken will result in one of them swerving off the senatorial road just in time to file for their old safe House seat.”