The race between two Republican congressmen vying for an open U.S. Senate seat has turned nasty in debates and political ads.
Both Jerry Moran, of Hays, and Todd Tiahrt, of Goddard, have criticized each other on issues including immigration, government spending and taxes, health care and what to do with terrorist suspects.
The lengthy fight for the GOP nomination has been both for the conservative mantle and the label of independent Kansas politician versus Washington insider.
“Do Kansans want a liberal compromiser as a senator? Or do they want someone who is going to fight for the shared values of Kansans?” said Tiahrt, who has represented the state’s 4th Congressional District in south-central Kansas since 1995.
Moran, who took office in the U.S. House in 1997 representing the state’s 1st District of western and central Kansas, has played up a message on cutting federal spending during the campaign.
“(Tiahrt’s) a member of the spending committee, the House Appropriations Committee,” Moran said.
The seat is open because Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., is running for governor.
Through debates, interviews and attack ads, both candidates have spent time trying to highlight their own plans for the economy.
Nearly once a week Moran mentions he was one of only 17 House members to vote against every stimulus and bailout proposal. He says job creation can come through a refined tax code that doesn’t rely on higher spending.
“My agenda on day one of being a U.S. senator is to work to hold the line on spending and create a tax environment and a regulatory environment in which businesses can success in putting people back to work,” Moran said.
But Tiahrt’s campaign has accused Moran of voting against the Bush tax cuts in 2003. Moran said he voted against a resolution on the tax cuts. He was worried the plan didn’t cut enough spending, and he later supported the $350 billion Bush tax cut plan.
Tiahrt touts his plan for tax relief, regulatory reform, and relying more on the private sector for health care, energy independence and litigation reform.
He credits his economic stances as the reason for winning endorsements from groups like the Tea Party Express.
“It’s because I’ve got a good plan to get the economy going from the ground up and not the ground down,” Tiahrt said.
Both congressmen joined the new House Tea Party Caucus last week.
On immigration, Moran accuses Tiahrt of voting for “amnesty” for past support of legislation that gives illegal immigrants paths to obtain driver’s licenses and in-state tuition benefits. Tiahrt said he changed his stance from years ago after talking with Kansans about the issue.
Tiahrt has repeatedly said the United States needs to work to “build the fence” or secure borders before moving forward on immigration policy. He has criticized Moran for past support of “sanctuary cities” for illegal immigrants and said that caused former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., to switch his endorsement from Moran to Tiahrt.
Moran said he voted against the “sanctuary city” concept several times.
During their congressional careers the two receive favorable scores from right-leaning groups, although a few votes stand out. Moran, for instance, broke ranks with most Republicans, including Tiahrt, and did not support the 2003 Medicare prescription drug overhaul because he said it would be bad for the state.
Moran voted in 2009 on expanding the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Tiahrt voted against expanding SCHIP.
Tiahrt says those votes indicate he is the true conservative, but Moran says his overall record shows he votes based on what he believes is best for the state.
Both men support repealing the federal health care overhaul approved earlier this year.
The home stretch
The winner of the Aug. 3 primary will be the front-runner to win in the Nov. 2 general election because Kansas is a heavily Republican state.
Moran has consistently held a lead in fundraising and in the public polls, but Tiahrt says primary polls are traditionally unreliable and touts recent endorsements from conservatives such as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, former top Bush aide Karl Rove and James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family.
The most recent Survey USA poll found Moran leading 50 percent to 36 percent among 787 likely primary voters, but Tiahrt’s campaign said the poll shows he is gaining ground.
One pundit said the primary elections are more difficult to predict.
“The polls may be correct of the people they polled, but if on Election Day there was a real surge of very conservative voters, then Tiahrt’s arguments could be true,” said Bob Beatty, a Washburn University political science professor who moderated one of the debates.
In the GOP primary, Mound City accountant Tom Little is also running. And former Kansas Attorney General Robert Londerholm, of Overland Park, will be on the ballot, but he is no longer campaigning.