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Establishment, Tea Party battle heats up in Kansas

| Friday, July 29, 2016, 11:00 p.m.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, 1st District, talks about his controversial votes and the effect his brand of defiance is having on a divided Republican Party in a gridlocked House of Representatives. in his office in the Cannon Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Friday, August 2, 2013.  (J.M. Eddins Jr./MCT)
Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, 1st District, talks about his controversial votes and the effect his brand of defiance is having on a divided Republican Party in a gridlocked House of Representatives. in his office in the Cannon Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Friday, August 2, 2013. (J.M. Eddins Jr./MCT)

The upcoming Republican primary battle in Kansas between Rep. Tim Huelskamp and a local physician is proving to be the latest showdown between the Tea Party and establishment wings of the party as tensions between the two GOP factions continue to grow.

Since being elected in 2010, Huelskamp, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, has been a thorn in the side of his party's leadership. He repeatedly clashed with former House Speaker John Boehner, and as a result was removed from the House Agriculture and Budget committees in 2012.

He has promoted a small-government agenda while decrying as “crony capitalism” programs pushed by business groups.

His re-election bid is being backed by Koch brother-supported groups Freedom Partners and Americans for Prosperity, which are devoting “low six figures” to knock on doors in Kansas' 1st Congressional District, urging voters to support the congressman. In Huelskamp's corner is the conservative Club for Growth, which has spent $400,000 aiding his re-election efforts, including a $130,000 television ad launched this week attacking his challenger, physician Roger Marshall.

The efforts mark the first time Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners are working to re-elect an incumbent in a contested Republican primary this election.

“Our network is focused on this race because Huelskamp is the ultimate champion for our bread-and-butter economic issues, reining in spending, bringing an end to corporate welfare,” said Mark Holden, general counsel of Koch Industries and a board member of AFP and Freedom Partners.

In total, outside groups have spent nearly $1.5 million to shape the outcome of Tuesday's primary.

Huelskamp has drawn the ire of business groups and the Kansas Farm Bureau by voting against the Export-Import Bank and the farm bill.

In an unusual wrinkle that highlights scrambled alliances among GOP-aligned groups, the Chamber of Commerce and the super PAC ESAFund are fiercely opposing Huelskamp's re-election.

ESAFund is the affiliated super PAC of billionaire TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, whose family owns the Chicago Cubs. The group has spent nearly $1 million against Huelskamp and for Marshall, according to Federal Election Commission reports compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

“Huelskamp campaigned as a conservative, but in reality, when he objects to things like a balanced budget plan, the Republican budget and other such bills, all he does is throw chaos into the House,” said ESAFund president Brian Baker. “In many situations, he's made it impossible for Republican leadership to pass bills that would cut spending.”

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