TOPEKA, Kansas — U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts is touting his expertise in agriculture policy as he runs for re-election in the nation's leading wheat-producing state, and tea party challenger Milton Wolf's campaign accused him Thursday of trying to exploit geographical tensions with a new radio ad in western Kansas.
The 60-second spot, which began this week and will run until the Aug. 5 Republican primary, says Wolf doesn't understand agriculture and can't be counted upon to defend federal subsidies for crop insurance. The ad describes Wolf, a Leawood radiologist, as living "right next to Missouri" and says he "just doesn't work for western Kansas."
Roberts is seeking his fourth, six-year term in the Senate, serves on its Agriculture Committee, and has long been active in debates over farm policy. He's a former U.S. House Agriculture Committee chairman, and he and his aides believe he could become the Senate committee's next chairman if the GOP wins a majority.
The Kansas Farm Bureau and Kansas Livestock Association have endorsed the senator, and his backers recently formed Farmers and Ranchers for Roberts.
"He's been a friend of agriculture for all of the time he's been in the U.S. Congress," said Steve Baccus, an Ottawa County farmer and the Farm Bureau's president. "He's a guy who really understands what agriculture needs."
Wolf has stressed in campaign appearances that he grew up on a farm in Rice County. Wolf campaign spokesman Ben Hartman said attacking Wolf's eastern Kansas home is "geographical warfare" showing that Roberts, who calls Dodge City home, is seeing "some scary poll numbers" and treats western Kansas as his "firewall."
The ad also criticizes Wolf for noting in campaign appearances that he won a county fair cow-milking contest as a teenager, calling it the challenger's "stock answer" on agriculture policy.
"They certainly mock me for actually having farmed," Wolf said. "Between Pat Roberts and myself, only one of us have actually farmed, and it ain't the guy who's been in Washington for 47 years."
Baccus said protecting crop insurance was the most important issue for farmers as Congress approved a new farm bill this year, and the measure expanded those subsidies. Roberts voted against the package, saying that it had a number of serious flaws, including continued commodity price supports, and that it didn't do enough to control costs associated with food stamps.
Roberts' executive campaign manager Leroy Towns said the senator champions crop insurance because it's a market-oriented program and helps the U.S. avoid disaster-relief payments after crop losses. Towns said crop insurance also sustained Kansas agriculture during persistent drought.
"That crop insurance remains a cornerstone of the farm safety net is the result of Senator Roberts' fight to preserve it," Towns said.
Wolf said he supports crop insurance but believes this year's farm bill protects farmers from financial risk so much that it encourages them to buy and till more land than they otherwise would, driving up land prices.
"It just favors the very wealthy farmers — the wealthiest of farmers and the biggest operations — at the expense of the young farmer hoping to just get started," he said.
Roberts campaign: http://www.robertsforsenate.com/
Wolf campaign: http://www.miltonwolf.com/