By August, Rep. Tim Huelskamp could become the rare tea-party-backed congressman to lose a primary in a conservative district—or he could be unexpectedly saved by House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Three years after he was yanked from the House Agriculture Committee, the Kansas Republican landed a spot last month on the powerful panel in charge of committee assignments, which was reorganized by the new speaker. Already one of the House’s most vocal internal critics, Huelskamp has a newfound level of influence.
The question is to what extent that will help in his sprawling Kansas district, where Republicans say he is facing his toughest primary yet.
“Right now, it is a truly contested primary,” said Clay Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party. He gives Huelskamp a slight edge, “but I wouldn’t call this one decided by any stretch.”
Roger Marshall, a physician, has outraised the incumbent in each of the past two fundraising quarters. Also running is Alan LaPolice, who lost to Huelskamp in the 2014 primary by a margin of less than 8,000 votes. That put the congressman's conservative allies on notice while stoking opponents’ optimism that he's ripe for defeat this time.
After the 2012 elections, Huelskamp, who has long been known as a GOP rabble-rouser, was stripped of his assignments on both Ag and the Budget Committee after voting against Ryan’s budget proposal, among other things. Farming is a top priority in his rural district in Western Kansas—a seat previously held by both current senators, Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts, as well as Bob Dole in the 1960s.