DODGE CITY, Kansas — It was a scene out of 1950s Americana: Tim Huelskamp waved to constituents at a parade in this old cowboy town, smiling as his sons handed out bubble gum and campaign fliers urging a vote on Tuesday for the Republican congressman — a “Proven Principled Conservative.”
But the niceties on display last weekend belied a ferocious intra-Republican feud unfolding here in Kansas’ sprawling 1st Congressional District. Residents of the onetime stomping grounds of Wyatt Earp have been bombarded with competing TV ads and mailers, blasting Huelskamp as an ineffective troublemaker who’s lost his sway on critical agricultural issues. They’re urging voters to replace the Freedom Caucus member with Roger Marshall, an obstetrician running for office for the first time.
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What’s resulted in “the Big First,” as locals in the rural 63-county district call it, is an unlikely, multimillion dollar proxy fight this summer between some of the most powerful interests in the Republican Party. Outside conservative groups, including the Club for Growth and Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity, have swooped in to try and save Huelskamp in Tuesday’s primary, while the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Ricketts family’s “Ending Spending” group are spending big to send the three-term congressman back to Kansas.
The showdown has flipped the script on GOP warring in recent election cycles. Often it’s been an establishment-friendly incumbent scrambling to fend off a primary election challenger from the right. This time, it’s one of the most uncompromising conservatives in the House — a man who instigated John Boehner’s ouster as speaker and has bucked GOP leaders time and again on major votes — ironically being attacked as a D.C. insider and fighting for his political life.
Huelskamp’s critics back in Kansas say his “rigid” …