Senator Pat Roberts Beats Tea Party Challenger in Kansas

Senator Pat Roberts was cheered on by supporters while waiting for the results of the Republican primary vote in Overland Park, Kan. on Tuesday night. Credit Chris Neal/Topeka Capital-Journal, via Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Senator Pat Roberts held off the Tea Party insurgent Milton Wolf on Tuesday to defeat what may have been hard-line conservatives’ last chance at knocking off an incumbent Republican senator this year.

Mr. Roberts battled charges that he had lost touch with his home state and spent little time there since coming to Congress in 1981, first as a House member and, since 1997, as a senator. But Mr. Wolf, a physician and distant relative of President Obama’s, ultimately had more baggage to overcome, including posting X-rays of patients on his Facebook page with mocking commentary.

The primary in Kansas on Tuesday, as well as the one in Michigan, proved to be more about the power of incumbency than the Republicans’ civil war.

Tea Party incumbents generally held off challenges from establishment Republicans, and establishment incumbents beat back challengers from the right.

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In Michigan, Tea Party insurgents and pro-business Republicans fought to a draw after an eastern Michigan lawyer defeated a Tea Party incumbent, Representative Kerry Bentivolio, but a libertarian stalwart, Justin Amash, fended off a U.S. Chamber of Commerce-backed challenger in the west.

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Kansas – U.S. Senate
Pat Roberts Incumbent 121,607 48.0%
Milton Wolf 103,518 40.9
D.J. Smith 14,725 5.8
Alvin Zahnter 13,400 5.3
96% reporting 12:33 AM ETFull Results »
The easy victory for the lawyer, Dave Trott, in eastern Michigan may have been more about Mr. Bentivolio’s eccentricities than the Tea Party’s popularity, but it was only the third defeat of a House incumbent this season, and the first from the Republican Party’s more traditional business constituency. For all the talk of insurgencies, other than Mr. Bentivolio, only Representatives Eric Cantor of Virginia, the majority leader, and Ralph Hall, a 91-year-old Texan, have been defeated.

Mr. Amash’s narrower win over a businessman, Brian Ellis, was more clearly a fight between Mr. Amash’s Ron Paul-inspired libertarianism — as much a thorn in the side of Republican leaders as Democrats — and business conservatism.

“The establishment had the long knives out for Justin, and that makes this victory just a little bit sweeter,” said Jenny Beth Martin, chairman of the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, a political action committee that backed Mr. Amash.

Conservative activists were hoping for another lightning strike like the defeat of Mr. Cantor in June, or to at least see incumbents like Mr. Bentivolio, Mr. Amash and Tim Huelskamp of Kansas — all of whom drew primary opponents fed up with hard-line conservatism — hold on.

Mr. Huelskamp, a Republican, has made a brief career of fiscal rectitude that has meant voting no on virtually every significant piece of legislation, including a major farm bill in January. His opponent, Alan LaPolice, a local schools superintendent, tested whether rural Kansans were fed up with Mr. Huelskamp’s “Mr. No” stance, but Mr. Huelskamp prevailed.

In another Kansas race, Todd Tiahrt, a former representative, moved to the center to challenge Representative Mike Pompeo, who took Mr. Tiahrt’s House seat in the 2010 Tea Party wave after he quit to unsuccessfully run for the Senate. But Mr. Tiahrt’s challenge fell well short.

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Voters in Missouri easily approved an amendment to the State Constitution declaring gun ownership an inalienable right, a measure that advocates say will raise the bar for any future gun control efforts. State lawmakers who drafted the amendment say it will also protect citizens’ rights to store ammunition in their homes.

Dave Trott, a lawyer backed by Michigan’s Republican establishment, embraced his wife after easily defeating Representative Kerry Bentivolio. Credit Carlos Osorio/Associated Press
Congress watchers, stunned by the unexpected loss of Mr. Cantor, were expecting a strong night for incumbents, but were loath to make predictions.

David Wasserman, a House political analyst at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, said, “I think in part Eric Cantor’s loss spoke to the late-breaking mentality of Republican primary voters, but it also spoke to a crisis in polling in these primaries.”

Finding an ideological trend in the outcomes was difficult. Republican establishment backers of Mr. Roberts said he was the true conservative in the race against Mr. Wolf.

Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said that “Senator Roberts has served as a diligent check on Democrats’ push for ever expansive government and is a true conservative voice for our state.”

Mr. Bentivolio’s political troubles stemmed more from the circumstances of his 2012 election than his ideological positions. Mr. Bentivolio was a gadfly candidate challenging veteran Representative Thaddeus McCotter, Republican of Michigan, when Mr. McCotter’s ballot petition turned out to be full of fraudulent signatures. After Mr. McCotter’s unplanned retirement, Republicans were left with a man who wrestled with bankruptcy, raised reindeer and once said in court that he had trouble discerning whether he was a Santa Claus impersonator or really was Santa Claus.

“Kerry Bentivolio is the very definition of the accidental congressman,” Mr. Wasserman said.

Mr. Trott’s pitch wasn’t about tacking to the center so much as it was about competence. He was able to lure Mitt Romney to the district to campaign for him, and secured endorsements from the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Michigan attorney general, and the police chiefs associations from all over southeastern Michigan.

“We can choose two more years of failed leadership, underrepresentation, lackluster policies and underwhelming progress. We can choose to ignore the problems facing not only our generation, but of those our children and grandchildren that will be burdened as well,” he emailed supporters Tuesday. “Or we can choose to take a st