Four of the five Republican candidates in the 4th District congressional race are calling foul on opponent Mike Pompeo, over a letter proposing one-on-one debates between himself and supposed fellow frontrunner Wink Hartman.
Hartman, state Sen. Jean Schodorf , small-business owner Jim Anderson and engineer/rancher Paij Rutschman joined in criticizing Pompeo’s proposal, saying he was trying to boost his chances by turning a five-candidate Republican primary into a two-man race.
Pompeo’s campaign manager said Pompeo is not trying to limit debates involving all the candidates, but proposing additional, deeper debates between himself and Hartman as the frontrunners.
The letter, signed by Pompeo campaign manager Rodger Woods, cites a recent KWCH poll of 4th District voters showing Pompeo and Hartman with 39 and 37 percent — with Schodorf, Anderson and Rutschman in single digits.
“In light of the separation between groups of candidates, both in the polls and in other areas such as fundraising and volunteers, I believe voters would be well-served by the opportunity to compare the top two candidates side by side,” the letter said.
The letter goes on to propose a series of four debates between Pompeo and Hartman only.
In a statement, Hartman’s campaign strongly rejected the proposal. “Mike Pompeo’s plan to anoint himself as the ‘real’ candidate while excluding others is a page straight out of the Washington, D.C. playbook,” Hartman campaign manager Scott Paradise said.
Woods replied that Pompeo has been in a dozen all-comers forums and plans to participate in at least three more before the Aug. 3 primary election.
He said he proposed the one-on-one debates so the two frontrunners could discuss issues in greater depth than is possible with four to five candidates on stage.
Hartman wants “to hide behind other candidates,” and “is not interested in the deep debate that you get when you narrow the field down,” Woods said.
Schodorf called a news conference, where she announced that the Hartman campaign had provided her a copy of the letter and denounced the proposal contained in it.
“It wants to leave out all of the other candidates, because we are not worthy to be on the same stage as Mike Pompeo, and I am very upset about this,” Schodorf said. “Sometimes, when a person runs a campaign, it tells you what kind of person they would be if they are elected, what kind of public official. And if I’m not good enough to stand on the same stage as Mike Pompeo, how will he treat the constituents who need help on very important matters?”
Late Monday, the Anderson campaign issued a statement accusing Pompeo of trying to “bully the other candidates out of the race.
“This afternoon, the real Mike Pompeo was displayed for all the voters of the 4th district of Kansas to see,” said the statement, released by Anderson campaign spokesman Shanen Taylor. “His attempt to collude with Wink Hartman … was met with an appropriate response from the Hartman campaign. The people will choose the winner, not Mike.”
At her news conference, Schodorf also alluded to other efforts by the Pompeo campaign to try to get her to drop out.
“It is not the only time he has ignored us or tried to get us out of the race,” she said. “We are here to stay and we are here to win.”
Rutschman characterized Pompeo’s proposal as “just downright insulting.
“Who is he to decide which candidates are qualified to represent the 4th District?” she said.