A weary, yet ecstatic Roger Marshall could hardly find the words Monday night to describe how he felt following his upset primary victory over incumbent First District Congressman Tim Huelskamp.
“It’s a great day,” Marshall said, surrounded by family members, supporters and campaign staff at a watch party Tuesday night. “I am so humbled.”
He and his supporters were gathered on the back patio of Marshall family friends Chris and Julie Spray. As Marshall spoke, there were cheers and hollers from the enthusiastic crowd.
It was an oft bitter and divisive Republican congressional district primary pitting the challenger and Great Bend physician Marshall against Fowler farmer and Hutchinson resident Huelskamp. The two jockeyed for position in the polling, but each only managed leads that were within the margin of error.
However, he claimed his home county of Barton by 2,568 votes to 1,921, a percentage difference of 57.21 to 42.79. With all counties in the massive First District reporting as of 11:45 p.m., he held a 58,453 to 45,036 (57 to 44 percent) lead over the incumbent.
“It was the positive message,” he said of what turned the tide. “When they started throwing mud, our numbers started going up.”
Kansans, he said, don’t like dirty politics.
He did thank Huelskamp for his 20 years of service, and acknowledged Huelskamp’s wife Angela.
Marshall will serve a two-year term, assuming office on Jan. 3, 2017.
The first thing he will do in Washington is meet with House Speaker Paul Ryan. “I will say we want a voice back on the House Ag Committee,” Marshall said.
With 70 percent of the Kansas economy based on farming and with more cows than people, it is crucial we have this representation, he said. With Huelskamp kicked off the Ag Committee, the major farm organizations began endorsing Marshall.
“We’re hurting,” he said of the downturn in the ad and oil industries. “We need to turn this economy around.”
Responding to attacks from the Huelskamp campaign questioning his politics, Marshall said conservatives in the district need not worry as he is soundly pro-life and a supporter of the Second Amendment. “We are a family of conservatives, but we don’t wear it on our shirtsleeves.”
His family, faith and rural background are what drives him, he said.
But, one man can’t make a difference alone. “I will reach across the aisle. It’s about growing relationships.”
He calls himself a peacemaker. “We have to work together to solve these problems.
“I’m not a politician,” he said. “I want more focus on Kansas and more focus on America. We want this county to grow stronger.”
Closer to home, he thanked the residents of Great Bend and surrounding communities. He said he’s delivered their babies and his kids have played sports with the kids of his friends.
In fact, he delivered a baby at about 8:15 Tuesday morning.
He said he has thought about running for several years, but his wife Laina was reluctant. But, now that their kids are older and they had their first grandchild, she caved. “Go and make the world better than you found it,” she said.
“We’ve been hard at this for two years,” he said. They logged 40,000 miles, knocked on 40,000 doors and visited countless town meetings.
And, he plans on heeding the advice of former Senator Bob Dole. “He said don’t forget where you're from.’”
He said he will remain living in Great Bend and just find a small place in Washington. “I am looking at this like going to college.”
The gravity of the election was just starting to soak in for Marshall Tuesday. He said he was planning on getting a good night’s sleep.
Following the calling of the election, other support for Marshall was reported.
“Governing was on the ballot in KS-1 and voters spoke clearly,” said U.S. Chamber of Commerce National Political Director Rob Engstrom. “For those leaders who fight for the American free enterprise system and economic freedom, they will find no greater friend. We congratulate Dr. Roger Marshall on his decisive victory.”
The U.S. Chamber held an endorsement event in Manhattan Monday to highlight its endorsement of Marshall, along with the Farm Bureau, Kansas Livestock Association and Kansas Contractors Association.
“Congressional District who recommended a candidate, made their choice abundantly clear,” said Kansas Farm Bureau President Rich Felts. “We believe Dr. Marshall will fight for hard working Kansans, promote and strengthen agriculture, and forge a positive consensus to move ahead the business of governing.”
Despite multiple attempts via email and phone to set up an interview with Huelsklamp, his staff returned only one call and never provided a number to reach the congressman.
The results posted Tuesday night are unofficial. The totals won’t be finalized until the state canvass.
An historic race
Minnesota-based Smart Politics noted that if Marshall defeated Huelskamp, the victory would be “monumental” in “the annals of Kansas politics.”
Over the previous 26 cycles since 1964, just one of 103 Kansas U.S. Representatives seeking reelection has lost a renomination bid — Republican Dick Nichols in 1992.
Commonly known as “The Big First”, the district encompasses 69 counties in western and northern Kansas (more than half of the state which has 105 counties in all), making it the 12th largest congressional district in the nation. Located within the district along with Great Bend are Manhattan, Salina, Dodge City, Emporia, Garden City, Hays and Hutchinson.
Alan LaPolice is a 2016 independent candidate seeking election to the 1st Congressional District. He initially declared that he would run as a Republican but announced that he would seek election as an independent on May 5. LaPolice was a 2014 candidate for the same seat and was defeated by incumbent Huelskamp in the August Republican primary.
There are no Democrats running for the seat.
Past First District congressmen include Bob Dole, Keith Sebelius, Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran, all of whom are Republicans.
Marshall has been obstetrician-gynecologist in Great Bend since 1991.
He has served as chairman of the Board of Great Bend Regional Hospital and has just completed his term as the district governor of Rotary International. A lifelong Republican, Marshall served seven years in the Army Reserves where he trained a mobile hospital support unit, rising to the rank of captain.
In addition, Marshall has been involved with the Golden Belt Community Foundation and is a commissioner for the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.
He and his Laina have four children. They recently became grandparents.
A Kansas native, Marshall earned his undergraduate degree in biochemistry from Kansas State University, before graduating from the University of Kansas School of Medicine. He received his medical doctorate in 1987.
Huelskamp was elected to his first term as a United States Representative in November 2010 and was subsequently re-elected in 2012 and 2014. In the 114th Congress he represents Kansas’ First Congressional District.
He was born near and raised on the family farm in Fowler. He now lives in Hutchinson.
Following high school, Huelskamp attended a seminary in Santa Fe, N.M., and completed his bachelor’s degree in social science education at the College of Santa Fe.
After his undergraduate education, Huelskamp accepted a scholarship to pursue doctoral studies at The American University in Washington, D.C. In four years, he obtained a Ph.D. in political science with a specialization in agriculture policy.
Before coming to Congress, he was first elected to the Kansas Senate in 1996, serving four terms.
He and his wife Angela have four adopted children.