The Kansas GOP Senate Primary: Wide Right

With eight seconds to play in Super Bowl XXV, Buffalo Bills kicker Scott Norwood teed-up to boot what would have been a championship-winning, 47-yard field goal. Seconds later, Norwood's failed kick was forever woven into the fabric of NFL lore as the kick sailed, in the words of play-by-play man Al Michaels, "wide right."

Compared to the way Reps. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) kick, Norwood's failed effort would have been straight down Broadway.

There's an old proverb about primary elections. If you're a Republican, run to the right in the primary and then to the center in the general election.

It's hard to imagine where Tiahrt and Moran would be if they ran any further to the right in today's GOP primary to succeed retiring Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS).

If Tiahrt and Moran played baseball and tried to leg out an infield hit, they'd veer off the first base line, into the grandstands and wind up in a hot dog stand on the mezzanine level.

If they flew from New York to Los Angeles, Tiahrt and Moran would diverge from their flight pattern and land in Edmonton.

I'd love to be a mechanic inspecting the steering columns of their cars. I can't imagine either making many left-hand turns.

Makes you wonder if either of these guys would even bother to campaign in Manhattan, KS, lest someone mistake them for wooing voters in liberal Manhattan, NY.

For months, Tiahrt and Moran have waged political war over who is more conservative. And the year's Republican political trends, an energized tea party movement and disdain for the agenda wielded by the Democratic Congress and President Obama have only bolstered their efforts to capture the conservative mantle in a rare Congressman versus Congressman, internal-party fracas.

The two have burned a collective $5 million to court conservative voters. They've turned what are usually polite politics in the Sunflower State into Bleeding Kansas.

What's interesting is that both are candidates are pretty conservative. In 2009, National Journal ranked Moran as the 367th "most liberal" member of the 435 member House. He was the 64th-most conservative. Tiahrt scored nominally better. National Journal rated Tiahrt as the 377th most-liberal member and the 54th-most conservative.

When it comes to vote scoring, the American Conservative Union (ACU) assessed Tiahrt at voting with them 91 percent of the time. Meantime, Moran fared a little better, earning a 92 percent ACU rating. Both lawmakers drew only a 14 percent tally from the more-liberal AFL-CIO.

In his 1966 gubernatorial bid, President Reagan issued what has come to be known in GOP circles as the 11th Commandment: "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican."

But that's all out the window in the Tiahrt-Moran contest.

Tiahrt's standard campaign method is to cast aspersions his opponent's voting record.

"He's a moderate and I'm a conservative," Tiahrt chimed "He's a liberal compromiser."

Tiahrt also suggested that Moran often voted with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Traditionally, the Speaker of the House rarely casts votes on the House floor.

Still Tiahrt stands by his conservative mantle.

"I was conservative when conservative wasn't cool," Tiahrt said. "Moran is an election year conversion."

Meantime, Moran dismissed suggestions that he was trying to highlight voting differences between him and Tiahrt to sway Republican voters.

"I don't have to out-conservative anybody. I'm happy to sit on my voting record," Moran said.

Moran took a swipe at his opponent, noting that he's a veteran member of the House Appropriations Committee, the panel that determines how the government spends its money.

"I would say he's one of the top-ten most-prolific spenders when it comes to earmarks," Moran said.

Often in politics, candidates and lawmakers quibble but are at least cordial after hours. The same can't be said for Tiahrt and Moran.

"I don't know if friends is the word," Moran said of Tiahrt. "But we work side by side."

Tiahrt says he asks Moran about his ill mother. But he's not sure that's a welcome entreaty.

"I sure hope he says hi to me when I pass him in the hallway," said Tiahrt. "But usually he looks the other way."

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