In an unusual electoral twist, it was the GOP establishment who claimed victory over conservatives with the primary defeat of Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp on Tuesday night.
Buoyed by agriculture interest groups and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, obstetrician Roger Marshall easily ousted the three-term congressman who was one of the most hard-line conservative members of the House and a member of the rabble-rousing Freedom Caucus.
"On most issues, be it Obamacare, the Second Amendment or Planned Parenthood, Huelskamp and Marshall weren't that far apart. But Huelskamp's confrontational, anti-establishment approach had turned off his colleagues on Capitol Hill as well as many farm groups in the sprawling, 63-county district he represented," the Wichita Eagle reported.
Much of the trouble for Huelskamp began when he was kicked off the House Agriculture Committee in 2012 after opposing then-Speaker John Boehner, a crucial assignment in the farm-rich, sprawling rural district. He further angered many when he voted against the farm bill in 2013 and survived a close primary in 2014. Outside groups poured almost $3 million into the contest, mainly opposing Huelskamp, but conservative groups like the Club for Growth and Americans For Prosperity did come to his aid. Still, in the end it wasn't enough.
"Getting kicked off the Agriculture Committee is a crime that can't be forgiven," Brian Scheideman, a drivers education teacher in the district, told the Associated Press. "I don't mind the independent voice, but you've got to figure out how to work with people."
Huelskamp is just the third GOP incumbent to lose a primary this year, but the other two losses came in part due to redistricting. North Carolina Rep. Renee Ellmers faced a largely new district but also heavy conservative spending against her to become the first incumbent casualty of 2016. Virginia Rep. Randy Forbes also lost in a redrawn district. Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Chaka Fattah also lost his primary as he was facing a 29-count federal indictment; he was later convicted and resigned.