Topeka A conservative Kansas legislator said Monday he will announce in a few weeks whether he will challenge freshman U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins in the Republican primary.
State Sen. Dennis Pyle’s actions in recent months suggest the Hiawatha farmer, who’s served in the Legislature since 2001, is running against Jenkins in the Aug. 2 primary. He set up a campaign organization in November and has a Web site featuring a brief video of him on his farm, asking viewers for support.
It would be the first primary challenge for an incumbent U.S. House member from Kansas since 1998.
“I am very close to making an announcement,” Pyle said during a telephone interview. “Hopefully, within the next few weeks, if not sooner.”
Jenkins has been a reliable GOP vote against economic proposals from President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats, including the new federal health care law. She’s already received the endorsements of Kansas’ two GOP senators, Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts.
She’d start a primary race with a big financial advantage. She began the year with a $653,000 balance in her campaign fund, while the figure for Pyle was about $44,000, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
“Right now, I’m just focused on taking care of business, because I’ve always said if you take care of business, the politics will take care of itself,” she said. “I take nothing for granted.”
Democrats’ only declared candidate is Cheryl Hudspeth, of Girard. She had worked in banking and economic development but has been taking care of her husband for several years following an auto accident.
“There are some other folks who are looking at the race,” Kansas Democratic Party spokesman Tyler Longpine said, declining to name them.
The eastern Kansas district leans in voter registration toward the GOP but has been competitive for Democrats.
Republican Jim Ryun won the seat in 1996 and, after easily overcoming a primary challenger two years later, held it for a decade. But in 2006, Democrat Nancy Boyda unseated Ryun.
Two years later, Jenkins defeated Boyda, after holding off Ryun’s attempt at a comeback in the primary.
Before her congressional run, many Republicans considered Jenkins a moderate as she served in the Legislature and won two terms as state treasurer.
Pyle, one of the Legislature’s most conservative members, said he’d discuss issues in detail if he enters the race. But his comments Monday suggested he’ll seek the backing of the tea party movement energizing conservatives over the past year.
“The emergence of the tea party and the resurgence of conservatism should be taken as a warning to Republicans in Name Only,” he said, later adding, “like Lynn Jenkins.”
Jenkins said she’s reached out to the tea party movement because they’re concerned about the same issues, such as federal spending and health care.
“Many of them are singing my song,” Jenkins said. “I’ve always kind of come to politics from the fiscal standpoint, and that’s what they’re concerned about.”
Chuck Henderson, of Manhattan, a member of the Flint Hills Tea Party, said the movement appears to be “pretty darn happy” with Jenkins.
“I’m not aware of anything in the present that gives anybody in the tea party movement heartburn,” he said. “She seems really solid on the biggest, most important issues right now.”