TOPEKA — Fourth District congressional candidate Mike Pompeo picked up a key endorsement today when state Sen. Dick Kelsey, R-Goddard, threw his support behind the Republican national committeeman.
Kelsey was one of the frontrunners in the GOP primary campaign until abruptly dropping out earlier this month after learning that his wife, Doris, has a heart condition.
Kelsey had shown strong support among religious conservative voters who tend to play a crucial role in Kansas Republican primaries. “I’ll have to earn their support, just like Dick did,” Pompeo said during a news conference called by Kelsey at the Capitol. “But with his help, I think we’ll get there.”
Kelsey hailed Pompeo for his business and military background. Pompeo heads an oilfield-equipment business and is a graduate of West Point.
“Mike brings a good broad perspective to the race,” Kelsey said. “He shares my pro-family issues, protection of the unborn.”
Despite Kelsey’s departure, the GOP primary field remains crowded with candidates including oilman Wink Hartman, the well-known owner of the Wichita Wild football team and the Hartman Arena; state Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, and Jim Anderson, a retired airline pilot and small-business owner.
In a KWCH Eyewitness News/Survey USA poll late last month — the only independent poll so far in the race — Hartman showed stronger support than Kelsey and Pompeo put together. Hartman apparently benefitted from an early run of TV ads introducing him to voters.
The winner of the Republican primary is likely to face a well-financed state Rep. Raj Goyle, D-Wichita, in the general election. Retired court services officer Robert Tillman has also announced a run on the Democratic side.
Wednesday’s endorsement was the second in a week that Pompeo has picked up west of Wichita.
Rep. Dan Kerschen, R-Garden Plain, whose House district lies within Kelsey’s Senate district, endorsed Pompeo shortly after Kelsey quit the race.
Kerschen, a farmer, called Pompeo “real solid” and said he was impressed by Pompeo’s grasp of agricultural issues, which are critical to his sprawling and largely rural district.
Washburn University political science Professor Bob Beatty, who has been closely watching the race, said Kelsey’s endorsement will help Pompeo, but how much will depend heavily on how much Kelsey helps the Pompeo campaign.
If Kelsey agrees to share his donor and volunteer lists, the effect could be significant in offsetting Hartman’s greater name recognition, Beatty said.
Name recognition will be significant because the 4th District race will be down the ballot from the more attention-getting race for U.S. Senate matching current 4th District Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard, against 1st District Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Hays, Beatty said.
Kelsey said he plans to campaign hard for Pompeo.
“I will campaign as actively as his campaign desires me to do,” Kelsey said.
Desire won’t be a problem, Pompeo added.
“I plan to seek his advice and his help in lots of places and lots of times,” Pompeo said.