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Pompeo claims victory over Tiahrt in 4th District race

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Tuesday, August 5, 2014, at 8:42 p.m.
  • Updated Friday, August 8, 2014, at 2:17 p.m.

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Rep. Mike Pompeo said voters on Tuesday sent a message that they want the federal government to stay out of their lives when they handed him a large victory over challenger Todd Tiahrt.

He vowed to continue working on that in Washington, D.C., “every single day” if they send him back to his 4th District congressional seat. He will face Wichita Democrat Perry Schuckman in the November general election.

“I think Kansas voters understood that they’re enormous beneficiaries of smaller, more humble government,” Pompeo said after his victory speech at the Candle Club near 13th Street and Woodlawn.

He was flanked by young volunteers and family members as he finally appeared at his watch party at 9:36 p.m., shortly after receiving a phone call from Tiahrt conceding the race.

With 550 of 609 precincts reporting, Pompeo had 63 percent of the vote to Tiahrt’s 37 percent.

It was a bitterly contested race featuring a challenger who had held the seat four times longer than the incumbent and was trying to get it back. Tiahrt served as 4th District congressman from 1994 until he lost a Senate bid to Jerry Moran in 2010. Pompeo, a businessman, was elected to replace him that year.

Tiahrt conceded, to a large room full of cheering supporters, about 9:28 p.m.

“We felt the right thing to do was to make the voices of the 4th District heard again. And we did,” he said.

“We are not going to win this race tonight. But we won a lot of hearts. We had a great time.”

Voters had mixed views.

“I voted for Tiahrt because I liked him in the past and I think he did a good job,” said Deborah Reeves of Derby.

But Karen Osburn of Derby said, “Tiahrt jumping back in made me kind of teed off, and I wanted to make sure he doesn’t go anywhere. He’s already been out and he’s done. He’s had a run for it, that’s it.”

Jim Arnold of Valley Center said he liked both candidates, but he voted for Pompeo. “Tiahrt ran against the wrong guy,” he said.

The race became a battle over spending philosophies, reflecting a shift in thinking by the conservative Republican base since Tiahrt left office.

Pompeo criticized Tiahrt for being a “big-government Republican” because of his use of earmarks, which Pompeo called an “old-school Washington vote-trading practice.”

Tiahrt said that Pompeo had lost touch with Kansas residents by becoming part of a system in Washington that is all about money while aviation companies and jobs disappeared from the district, undoing all the work that Tiahrt, a former Boeing employee, had accomplished in office.

Tiahrt, who served on the House Appropriations Committee from 1997 until he left office, said the earmarks he obtained directly served the district, and he often proudly cited a long list of them, including flood control projects, railroad overpasses, tornado-proof schoolrooms, and funds for aircraft companies, McConnell Air Force Base and Wichita State University.

Tiahrt called this approach “re-prioritizing the federal government’s money.”

Pompeo championed his own approach, which is to work to cut federal spending and push legislation that streamlines government regulations to encourage investment and job growth, he said. He often cited his Small Aircraft Revitalization Act that was signed into law last year, as well as his work on a bill to speed federal approval for natural gas pipelines, which has passed the House and is pending in the Senate.

Tuesday night as votes were being counted, Tiahrt said that if he won, he planned to go back to where he served 16 years and try to change how things are, including by his own party.

If he lost to Pompeo, he said, “I go back to the private sector and do my best there.”

He said that regardless of the outcome, Republicans can’t keep doing what they’ve been doing.

“Stalemate is hurting America,” he said. Rather than cast more meaningless votes against Obamacare, he said, Congress needs to “find what works in Obamacare, leave that alone, and amend the law to modify the parts of the law that don’t work well. That’s good, fundamental conservative politics.”

Losing isn’t something he looked forward to, Tiahrt said. “But if there is one thing I learned from (former Sen.) Bob Dole, it was to never say never.”

National media such as the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal were drawn to the race, seeing it as a part of the country’s primary-election referendum on Republican politics.

Both candidates are social conservatives who oppose abortion and champion the Second Amendment, but it was Pompeo who received the endorsements of the large anti-abortion organizations and the National Rifle Association.

Pompeo said the race was being watched across the country because of his vision of limited government and individual responsibility.

“Tonight the nation watched the citizens of the 4th District go to the polls and say that is what we want for the next generation,” he said. “We demand it, and we’re going to send someone to Washington who is going to fight for that every single day.”

Pompeo enjoyed the privileges of incumbency during the race. He held a huge cash advantage, with $1,865,167 in the bank, according to federal election reports. Tiahrt, who didn’t enter the race until late May, had $124,576 on hand.

And although Tiahrt had received the financial support of Koch Industries while he was a congressman, the Wichita company threw its financial might behind Pompeo for this election, citing his belief in the free market, small government and less spending. Americans for Prosperity, a conservative group supported by Charles and David Koch, also spent hundreds of thousands on television ads for Pompeo.

Tiahrt’s major backer was Wichita oilman Wink Hartman. Hartman not only contributed as an individual to Tiahrt’s campaign, giving the maximum $2,600, but he launched a single-candidate super PAC, Kansans for Responsible Government, that spent $134,000 on commercials to defeat Pompeo. Hartman, who had fought a heated campaign against Pompeo in the 2010 GOP primary before finishing third, was the main contributor to the super PAC.

Contributing: Suzanne Tobias of The Eagle

Reach Fred Mann at 316-268-6310 or fmann@wichitaeagle.com.

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