Topeka Rep. Todd Tiahrt is making “very serious” preparations to run for the Senate in 2010, something that could lead to an intense Republican primary contest between the state’s two most senior congressmen.
Tiahrt, who represents the 4th District of south-central Kansas, stopped just short of declaring his candidacy Friday in an Associated Press interview. But he said he has made numerous phone calls and is receiving plenty of support.
“I’m putting together a steering committee and, at the appropriate time, I’ll make an announcement about that,” Tiahrt said. “I’m very serious about doing this.”
Rep. Jerry Moran, who represents the 1st District of western Kansas, has told constituents for months that he’ll run for the Senate. He has filed the state and federal paperwork necessary to start collecting contributions.
They would be seeking the seat held by Sen. Sam Brownback, a fellow Republican who is widely expected to run for governor in 2010. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who is term-limited in her job, is the Democrats’ best potential Senate candidate, but activists in both parties think President-elect Barack Obama may offer her a Cabinet job.
A Tiahrt-Moran race would feature two political veterans: Tiahrt won his seat in 1994, while Moran won his in 1996. Both have established regional power bases and have managed to attract support from both the GOP’s moderate and conservative wings, though Tiahrt is considered more conservative.
Such a contest also would feature an intense scramble for votes in Johnson County, home to affluent Kansas City-area suburbs and 22 percent of the state’s registered Republicans.
“The battle is also in the most expensive media market in the entire state,” said Bob Beatty, a Washburn University political scientist. “If Tiahrt and Moran are running, they literally have to start raising money now.”
As of mid-October, Tiahrt had $1.18 million in cash in his congressional campaign fund, which could be transferred to a Senate race. Moran had about twice as much, $2.39 million.
Still, former Kansas GOP Chairman Tim Shallenburger expressed doubts about whether Moran will stay in the race.
Shallenburger was the unsuccessful GOP nominee for governor against Sebelius in 2002, when many Republicans were hoping that Moran would run and didn’t. In 2005, Moran jumped out of the governor’s race, then reconsidered but dropped out again.
Tiahrt also has raised his profile by campaigning for GOP congressional challengers in the 2nd and 3rd districts of eastern Kansas. But Moran’s sprawling district, which covers about two-thirds of the state, could make it easier for him to build a statewide presence.
And Ryan Wright, executive director of the Kansas Traditional Republican Majority, said Tiahrt could have more trouble than Moran drawing support from moderates, though he described Tiahrt as “pragmatic” and a solid “party person.”
“Jerry’s fortunate in that he already appeals to everybody,” Wright said. “I think it’s a very tough primary, but I give the edge to Jerry.”
Some Republicans, including Shallenburger and Wright, would like to avoid a contentious and expensive primary, particularly if Sebelius is the Democratic nominee.
“My guess is there probably ultimately will not be a primary,” Wright said. “I think one of them will drop out. At the end of the day, they’re both party people.”