The candidates say they offer legitimate political differences. Their conservative critics say it's a campaign dirty trick.

Jeff Ippel is a Republican, involved in a three-way primary race for a seat in the Kansas House. His wife, Pam, is unopposed in the August Democratic primary — for the same seat.

Pam Ippel, whose platform emphasizes health care and funding for education, said she was the first to enter the race for an open seat from this Kansas City suburb.

"The more Jeff thought about it, the more he thought he'd have a better chance," she said.

"Better ideas," said her husband, who is running on a platform of smaller government and fewer illegal immigrants.

Other Republicans accuse the Ippels of working as a team.

"Personally, I think it's a fraud. It's a deliberate strategy of confusion," conservative Republican Jeff Colyer said. He says their real goal is to siphon away votes from his campaign to ensure the nomination of a GOP moderate, Sherrelyn Smith.

"It's an absolute sham. They're trying to confuse voters and manipulate the process," agrees Republican state Rep. Eric Carter, who is giving up the seat to run for state insurance commissioner.

The Ippels and Smith denied any collusion. "There's absolutely no truth to it," Smith said.

If there were any truth to it, it would be a case of conservatives having one of their own tricks pulled on them, said Kansas State University political science professor Joe Aistrup.

"It's about time the moderates started pulling this stuff," Aistrup said. "Conservatives have been running stealth candidates for years."

Whatever is going on, Johnson County Republican Party Chairman Doug Patterson doesn't like it.

"It's just one of those cute little things that belong in the weird news section," Patterson said.