Tea Party groups split on Senate race; poll shows Roberts with wide lead

A day after Tea Party-backed candidates lost U.S. Senate primaries in Mississippi and Oklahoma, two major conservative groups appear to be split about what to do in the upcoming Kansas primary between Sen. Pat Roberts and challenger Milton Wolf.

That split comes in the context of a new SurveyUSA poll showing Roberts leading Wolf 56-21 percent. The poll of likely GOP primary voters shows Roberts getting more than 50 percent support in every region except Kansas City, where 16 percent of those surveyed remain undecided.

The Senate Conservatives Fund, which has already spent close to $150,000 in independent expenditures supporting Wolf, mainly for direct-mail ads, put out a plea Wednesday seeking more contributions on his behalf. And they made it known they were just as upset with Kansas’ other senator, Jerry Moran, who chairs the National Republican Senate Committee, a group that raises money for incumbent Republican senators.

“And let’s take the fight for our conservative values right into the NRSC Chairman’s backyard,” said the letter from Ken Cuccinelli, a Virginia politician who is now president of SCF. “Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) is the (very) junior senator from Kansas. He’s up for re-election in two years, so helping the grassroots rise up in Kansas is important now as well as when Moran is up for re-election.”

SCF was founded by former South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, who now heads the Heritage Foundation, along with his one-time aide, Matt Hoskins. Hoskins is best known for his practice of launching sustained, blistering assaults on fellow Republicans whom he sees as too moderate, something that has characterized the Milton Wolf campaign from the beginning.

SCF has a policy of not endorsing incumbents. So far this year, it has backed the losing challengers in Mississippi, Oklahoma and Kentucky. But it backed successful candidates for open seats in Iowa and Nebraska.

Meanwhile, the conservative group Club for Growth is staying out of the Kansas Senate primary.

“As you know, Club for Growth Action spends money only in races where its involvement can make a difference,” the group’s president Chris Chocola said in a letter Wednesday. “This means CFG Action doesn’t spend money on a sure thing. We are risk takers.”

Club for Growth hasn’t given an endorsement in the Kansas race. In 2013, the group scored Roberts’ voting record at 84 percent, reflecting how many times he voted in line with their positions.

That was up sharply from a 55 score he earned the year before, which many have taken as proof that Roberts has moved far to the right since drawing a Tea Party challenger. Since 2005, Club for Growth gives Roberts an average 74 percent rating.

Like SCF, Club for Growth also backed losing candidate in Mississippi on Tuesday. But unlike SCF, it made no apologies or excuses afterwards.

“The Mississippi Senate race was a calculated risk — unfortunately, this one didn’t go our way,” the letter stated. “But it was close. Very close. And we suspect that Senator Thad Cochran — and all Establishment Republicans — gained a new appreciation for voter frustration about the threats to economic freedom and national solvency.”

SCF, by contrast, chalked up its loss in Mississippi to Cochran abandoning Republicans and appealing to Democratic voters in that state’s open primary.

“He (Cochran) and his crony capitalist friends recruited Democrats to defeat Chris McDaniel … by the narrowest of margins. And today they are crowing about using liberal Democrat voters to win,” SCF said.