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A Pair of Jayhawk Seat Scrambles

The departures of longtime Kansas Republican Reps. Jerry Moran and Todd Tiahrt to run for Senate in 2010 has created a pair of open-seat Congressional races in the Jayhawk State.

Given that Moran and Tiahrt have held onto those districts for seven and eight terms, respectively, local Republicans have been champing at the bit to run in their stead. Both races are expected to feature crowded Republican primaries that will likely determine the next Member of Congress from the staunchly conservative territory.

Moran and Tiahrt are challenging each other for retiring Sen. Sam Brownback’s (R) seat, now that the three-term Senator has his eyes on the governor’s mansion.

In Moran’s 1st district, at least three candidates have already lined up to run for the GOP nod. But given that there have been only three Members representing that district in the past 40 years, a bevy of other Republicans are expected to join the race before the filing deadline.

“It’s one of the 20 best Republican districts in the country,” said one Kansas Republican activist. “If you ever wanted to be in Congress and you live in that district, you’ve got to give this a shot now.”

As an elected official, state Sen. Tim Huelskamp (R) believes he has the inside track to the GOP nomination. Known as a firebrand conservative in the state Legislature, Huelskamp already represents a small portion of the district.

“I’m the only [candidate] who actually has experience, has actually cast a vote before,” he said in a phone interview.

Former Brownback Chief of Staff Rob Wasinger is also running in the primary after he moved his family back to western Kansas last year from the Washington, D.C., area. Wasinger worked for Brownback for about 12 years on Capitol Hill.

“A lot of people serve the state of Kansas in a variety of ways,” Wasinger said. “I was serving the people of Kansas in Washington, D.C.”

A third candidate, businessman Tim Barker, is also running, but could not be reached for comment.

According to online fundraising reports, Huelskamp and Wasinger had about the same amount of money in the bank at the end of 2008, with $99,000 and $95,000, respectively. Barker raised about $30,000 but had a little more than $2,000 in his campaign account at the end of the year.

“We lead in cash on hand, and we’re excited about that,” Huelskamp said. “We fully expected that someone who has been an insider in Washington for the past few years to have raised a lot more money.”

And according to campaign finance records, Wasinger did not report any itemized contributions from the mostly rural 1st district. Wasinger defended his fundraising, saying he expects to raise more in the district once he expands his campaign.

“I look at all the money that I’ve raised, all that money is going to be spent in the district,” Wasinger said. “It’s my very own contribution to economic growth.”

Wasinger said he asked his former boss to stay out of the race and not endorse anyone — a pledge that Huelskamp said Brownback also repeated to him.

Recent polling from Moran’s Senate campaign shows he is well-known and popular in the district, but the Congressman is expected to stay out of the race and not endorse a successor.

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