Hutch News – GOP leader blasts group’s letter – Missive alleging candidates’ KKK tie is ‘smear,’ state party chair says

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Published: 8/18/2008 10:56 PM | Last update: 8/18/2008 11:01 PM

GOP leader blasts group’s letter

Missive alleging candidates’ KKK tie is ‘smear,’ state party chair says

By Chris Green – Harris News Service – cgreen@dailynews.net

TOPEKA – A top state Republican Party official is condemning a campaign tactic used earlier this month that has stoked a feud between the GOP’s moderate and conservative factions in Kansas.

Kris Kobach, the party’s chairman, has written a letter criticizing a news release issued by a centrist group, the Kansas Traditional Republican Majority, days before the Aug. 5 primary election.

The group’s missive purported to link two candidates, Phill Kline and Jim Ryun, to the Ku Klux Klan through their association with a well-known conservative group whose director allegedly had ties to white supremacists.

The allegation wasn’t widely circulated in state media reports. But it still outraged leaders of a conservative GOP group, the Kansas Republican Assembly, which called the claim baseless.

In a posting on the state GOP’s official blog, Kobach writes that the moderate group’s attack was so out-of-line that all Republicans should condemn it.

“It is simply unacceptable for any organization that claims to represent the Republican Party to slander fellow Republicans in this way,” Kobach writes in the Aug. 15 entry. “Falsely accusing someone of being linked to the racism of the KKK is a personal smear that has no place in Republican politics.”

Kobach, who couldn’t be reached for further comment, also suggested that the moderate Republican group admit its mistake and apologize to Kline and Ryun.

Kline was defeated in his campaign to keep his Johnson County’s district attorney post. Ryun failed to advance in his bid to reclaim the 2nd District congressional seat he lost two years ago.

However, Ryan Wright, executive director of the Kansas Traditional Republican Majority, said the group wouldn’t be apologizing for the statement and that party officials should move on.

“I think traditional Republicans are focused on winning in November, and I guess we suggest that the party probably do the same,” Wright said.

Wright also said the news release was factual, never called Kline or Ryun racists, and only asked them to explain their association with the Family Research Council Action. The group had endorsed Ryun, and Kline had appeared at its “Blogs for Life 2008 Conference.”

Too late?

The moderate GOP group claimed that the council’s executive director, Tony Perkins, has addressed a racist group. It also cited a 2005 report claiming that Perkins had paid former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke for a mailing list during a Louisiana election in 1996.

Perkins has called that report false, countering that the campaign he was running unknowingly contracted with a firm Duke had an interest in and that he “profoundly opposes” Duke’s racial views.

Charlotte Esau, executive director of the conservative Kansas Republican Assembly, said the attempt to link Kline and Ryun to racist groups through Perkins was outlandish.

“I think they were right to condemn the actions of the (Kansas Traditional Republican Majority),” Esau said of the party letter written by Kobach. “I think all Republican elected officials and candidates should join with them to do the same.”

But she said it was “a little puzzling” that state Republican Party officials hadn’t addressed the group’s news release sooner.

Conservative Sen. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, said KTRM’s release was shameful and he was glad that Kobach was speaking out, although he wished the party had condemned the release earlier.

“Ten days later is a little bit late to be saying something,” Huelskamp said.

Conservative and moderate Republicans have battled for control of the party for years, often clashing over issues such as abortion, education spending and immigration.

Earlier this year, a political action committee led by moderate Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, donated $45,000 to the Kansas Traditional Republican Majority.

The contribution helped fund advertising campaigns that aided several moderate GOP senators in fending off challenges from more conservative GOP candidates.

Esau said she believes the flap over the news release would make it more difficult to work with some Republicans who are reluctant to condemn their allies in the moderate Republican group for going too far.

But she also said she didn’t think it would hold back Republican candidates from winning in the general election.

“I don’t think it hurts the party in November,” Esau said.

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