OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Newt Gingrich stumped Friday for U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, praising him as a strong conservative and touting his lengthy experience in Congress, even as the veteran Republican from Kansas faces criticism from a primary challenger who says Roberts is a career politician.
Gingrich, a former U.S. house speaker, helped Roberts open a campaign office in Overland Park, in the vote-rich Kansas City suburbs of Johnson County, which is home to 21 percent of the state's voters and is a key Republican — and tea party — stronghold. At least 150 people crammed into the narrow storefront space, interjecting with supportive comments as the two men spoke.
The event came a month after Dr. Milton Wolf, a Leawood radiologist, launched his campaign to challenge Roberts in the Republican primary in August 2014. Wolf is running as a tea party candidate, and though Roberts has strong ratings from conservative groups, Wolf has said the incumbent is not conservative enough.
Gingrich said Roberts is tough negotiator — and did so even when Gingrich was House speaker. But, Gingrich said, Roberts also knows how Congress operates and can work with people.
"The fact is, you have a tried conservative who has a proven record, who is very tough and who is an effective leader," Gingrich told reporters after the event. "I can't imagine somebody doing a dramatically better job than Pat Roberts, and I think Kansas would be giving up a lot if they gave up somebody who had this level of toughness and this level of experience."
As they spoke, Roberts and Gingrich were flanked by the incumbent's supporters, including Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer; state House Speaker Ray Merrick; Patricia Stoneking, president of the Kansas State Rifle Association; and Mary Kay Culp, executive director of the anti-abortion group Kansans for Life. Both Gingrich and Roberts reminisced about their past service together in the House, where Gingrich was speaker from 1995 to 1999 and where Roberts served for 16 years before his election to the Senate in 1996.
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