Topeka The way Bill Kassebaum figured it, his hardest political fight was behind him after defeating House Majority Leader Shari Weber in the Republican primary.
His only opponent in the Nov. 5 general election would be Democrat Susan Mulryan, of Dwight, in a district that's 2-to-1 Republican, with his family including two of the GOP's most beloved figures.
The landscape suddenly shifted when Weber became a write-in candidate, which will split Republican votes in the 68th District, covering Morris County and most of Dickinson County, including Abilene.
Having Weber in the running after losing the Aug. 6 primary reflects the ongoing split among Kansas Republicans. He's a moderate and she's a conservative.
"By Shari entering the race, it will have an impact if Democrats vote along party lines," said Kassebaum, of Burdick. "The Democrat could easily win this seat with a split Republican Party in the district."
Weber disagreed with his doomsday scenario.
"That is not even achievable," she said. "For that to happen, you would have to have Republicans voting for Democrats. There are more independents than Democrats."
Kassebaum said he didn't expect an easy ride in the campaign and had been campaigning more than he had expected.
State GOP Chairman Mark Parkinson said he expected Kassebaum to win. He said the state party backed Kassebaum and urged party unity.
As for party unity, Weber said, "Where were you people in March and April when I needed your support? Where were you with Republican unity then?"
A cattle rancher and Morris County attorney, Kassebaum is the son of former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker and grandson of Republican icon Alf Landon, the two-term governor and 1936 presidential candidate.
As for how Landon would have felt about Weber, Kassebaum said, "Everything is fair game in the primary, but when the primary is over, you don't work against the party. He would consider it very poor form to do that."
Weber lost the August primary by 145 votes out of 3,851 cast, the total representing 44 percent of the registered Republicans in the district. She blamed her loss, in part, on the low turnout.
Her supporters weren't ready to give up. They mounted a write-in campaign, and earlier this month Weber said she was back in the running.
"They need to do this. They just believe in the kind of service I have given to the district for the last eight years," Weber said. "I thought their enthusiasm for doing such a thing would wear down, but it has only grown."
Mulryan, a clinical social worker at Pawnee Mental Health Service in Junction City, said the Republican split would help her.
"I knew it was going to be tough, but this just makes it more possible," Mulryan said.
Mulryan said she got into the race largely because lawmakers dragged the 2002 session to record lengths over disagreements about raising taxes to balance the state budget.
"When I saw the amount of money spent $960,000 for the extra days, it just infuriated me," she said.
She blamed much of the delay on Weber, who holds the No. 2 leadership position in the House.
"I hold her highly responsible. I don't think she rose to the task," said Mulryan, who was Morris County Democratic chairwoman and also is on the local school board.
State Democratic Party Chairman Tom Sawyer said Weber's entry into the race "gives Susan a real opportunity." Another factor, he said, is that she has a strong base in Morris County.