WICHITA, Kan. — Pat Roberts has served Kansas in the Senate for nearly 18 years, but freshman Texas Sen. Ted Cruz had all the political clout at a Roberts campaign event Thursday.
The conservative icon and potential presidential candidate's support could be crucial for Roberts, who faces a challenge from independent candidate Greg Orman in a suddenly competitive race that has implications for the Senate majority.
Here to kick off his statewide bus tour, Roberts took the stage with Cruz, Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn and Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp — three allies on hand to provide support and additional enthusiasm. Roberts got solid applause, but the crowd erupted when Cruz, who had the final speaking slot, was introduced — yelling and cheering, longer and louder than for any other speaker.
"I'm here in Kansas because I know Pat. The two years I've served in the Senate, over and over again on fight after fight for conservative principles, Pat Roberts has shown up and reported for duty," Cruz told the crowd. "A year ago last week, when I was standing on the Senate floor filibustering on Obamacare, Pat Roberts was one of a handful of senators who came down and stood by my side and said, 'Obamacare is a disaster, and we've got to stop it.'"
Cruz also noted that Roberts also worked with him to stand up for the Second Amendment and in opposition to President Barack Obama's immigration policies.
Roberts' startlingly tough re-election bid comes in a state that last elected a non-Republican to the Senate in 1932. Until Wednesday, recent polls had shown Roberts at a significant disadvantage to Orman, a businessman from Olathe, a Kansas City suburb. But the incumbent took small leads in fresh surveys conducted over the past week.
Orman's potency as a candidate is largely a result of Roberts' own struggles, including questions about his residency and a sub-par campaign operation coming out of the primary. The race, once viewed as a sure thing for Republicans, is rated a Tossup by the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call. But Roberts is still alive, thanks to a revamp of his team, an influx of surrogates and outside money flowing onto the airwaves on his behalf.
On Thursday, as his colleagues were on hand to assist his campaign, Roberts acknowledged it was the junior senator from Texas that people were there to see.
"I have some prepared remarks, but I'm going to skip through them pretty quickly so we can get to the man," Roberts said as he took the stage after Coburn and Huelskamp.
Cruz saw his role here as giving the conservative stamp of approval, which could help turn out unenthusiastic voters who might otherwise consider staying home on Election Day. Roberts defeated tea party-backed challenger Milton Wolf by just 7 points in the Republican primary earlier this year.
"We had a hard fought primary here in the state of Kansas. ... But that primary's over," Cruz told the crowd.
"I want to speak to folks who are frustrated with Washington," he continued. "I understand, I promise you there is nobody more frustrated with Washington, D.C. than I am. But let me urge you, if you're frustrated with Washington, the answer is not to stay home and keep Harry Reid as majority leader."
Speaking to reporters after the event, Cruz noted Republicans across the country "need to turn out conservatives" to be successful next month.
"We need to turn out people who are frustrated and understandably frustrated with Washington ... and the case that has to be made in the next 26 days to men and women across the country, here in Kansas and in every other state, is that there is a better way," he said. "The path we're on isn't working."
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