“I keep the wolf at the door / But he calls me up / Calls me on the phone / Tells me all the ways that he’s gonna mess me up.” — Thom Yorke (Radiohead), “A Wolf at the Door” (2003)
What do you do when there’s a wolf at the door? Will he try to force his way through, or is he merely huffing and puffing? You build a house of bricks, which is exactly what one man threatened by a Wolf is doing right now. Jerry Moran is fortifying against a possible attack from Dr. Milton Wolf.
Presidential announcements have been proceeding apace lately, with 21 officially announced candidates. Deciding when to announce is a delicate decision, balancing fundraising and compliance laws with media coverage and other possible candidates. There is an incentive to delay announcing for a while in presidential politics, but not waiting too long to get into a race lest the significant donors and story lines pass you by.
In Kansas politics, there is no such disincentive. Paul Davis announced his candidacy for governor 15 months before the 2014 elections. A month later, Wolf announced against Pat Roberts for his Senate seat. Roger Marshall and Alan LaPolice both signaled intent to be serious contenders against Tim Huelskamp in the 1st Congressional District in 2016 by announcing months ago.
Wolf is the holdout.
Is Milton Wolf just huffing and puffing, or will he challenge Moran in the Republican Senate primary? Wolf, not known for being subtle, sends mixed signals. The physician and nearly-victorious challenger in 2014’s GOP Senate primary has been active on social media and particularly pointed in his criticism of both Roberts and Moran. Reminding people of his 2014 campaign, Wolf Tweeted (at https://twitter.com/miltonwolfmd) that Moran’s voting record would force him to rent a recliner in Roberts’ Virginia home as a hideout. Wolf consistently has mocked both of Kansas’ senators regarding the Export-Import Bank and Planned Parenthood.
If Wolf was as active at fundraising as he was Twitter, there would be no question that he was ready to blow a house down. However, Wolf reported raising no money and had a paltry $46,389 on hand. Moran has a house built of stone, though, sitting on a war chest of over $2 million. Perhaps Wolf is unsure of his chances.
Pat Roberts was a weakened candidate, both from his prolonged tenure in Washington D.C. and a lack of aggression in the early stages of his campaign. Wolf saw an easy target in Roberts and almost picked him off. But Moran has neither of the weaknesses Roberts did. As a first-term member of the Senate, Moran still shows the energy and fire that used to be one of Roberts’ hallmarks. Moran helmed the National Republican Senatorial Committee during one of the best years for Republican candidates in decades. Moran has both conservative credentials and the allegiance of many of the same rising-star Republican Senators Wolf seems enamored of, like Arkansas’ Tom Cotton, Utah’s Mike Lee, and Colorado’s Cory Gardner.
Wolf’s biggest roadblock to a candidacy is likely the intangible element that has defined Moran since his days as a state senator: his obsessive constituency focus. Even when running across the country to stump for candidates supported by the GOP, Moran was regularly back in Kansas keeping his constituents close. Wolf cannot pin a recliner ad on Moran the way he did Roberts. Political strategists might look at Wolf’s twitter timeline and theorize he is trying opposition messages on to see if any of them stick to Moran. So far, no good. And that may be the clue to why Wolf has not announced yet. Moran’s many strengths may just scare the Wolf away from his door.
Chapman Rackaway is an associate professor in the political science department at Fort Hays State University and a member of the “Insight Kansas” writing group.