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Incumbent senator's win ends ugly Kansas showdown

By Paul Steinhauser and Dana Davidsen, CNN Political Editor
updated 3:19 AM EDT, Wed August 6, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts beats tea party-backed challenger Milton Wolf
  • The Kansas race was largely defined by personal attacks on both sides
  • Tea party will get another chance to knock off an establishment candidate in Tennessee
  • Voters in Michigan, Missouri and Washington also voted Tuesday

Washington (CNN) -- Tuesday's Senate primary in Kansas ended another ugly showdown that pit a tea party-backed challenger against an establishment Republican incumbent.

CNN projects incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts has fended off conservative challenger Milton Wolf in the state's GOP Senate primary.

In his victory speech Roberts said that "we celebrate tonight" and that "we have another job starting first thing tomorrow."

"That job is to unite Republicans under a common and vital cause," he said. "Unity must happen if we are to keep Kansas red. It must happen if we are going to defeat an Obama agenda and send Harry Reid back!"

The race saw controversies over residency and Facebook photos and a rare streetside confrontation.

Roberts' win leaves only Thursday's nominating contest in Tennessee, where incumbent Lamar Alexander faces a bunch of conservative challengers, for a tea party-backed candidate to prevail in Senate primaries.

Wolf's campaign for months tried to portray Roberts as more in tune with Washington than Kansas, pointing to reports from earlier this year that the senator listed his voting address at the home of two longtime political supporters who rent a room to him.

Wolf said in his concession speech that "while we came up short tonight, I believe our battle just begins."

"I believe we're just getting warmed up," he said to his supporters.

"I believe we're going to save this country because it's up to us. Our republic needs us to stand up and fight and it is the greatest honor of my life to stand shoulder to shoulder with you," he said. "To run towards the screaming instead of away. And I will always stand up and fight for our country and fight for our state. And it is the biggest honor of my life to say that I stood with you."

Still, Roberts was seen as the heavy favorite in the nomination battle with a large double-digit lead in the most recent poll. A couple of other minor candidates were also on the ballot.

Dueling controversies

The Wolf campaign ran numerous ads attacking Roberts over his residency.

At the same time, the Roberts' campaign over the past couple of months went up with TV ads reminding voters that Wolf, a radiologist, posted X-ray images of mortal injuries and made light of them and the victims. Wolf was later forced to admit he made "insensitive" comments.

Wolf painted himself as a conservative activist with the guts to stand up to the GOP establishment.

As a doctor, he frequently campaigned against the Affordable Care Act and proposed his own plan that he calls "PatientCare."

He enjoyed the backing and the support of some major national tea party groups, such as the Tea Party Patriots and the Tea Party Express, and some influential anti-establishment organizations, like the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Madison Project.

Roberts enjoyed the support of the National Republican Senatorial Campaign, which is chaired by fellow Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran.

Showdown on the street

In the closing weeks of the primary campaign, Wolf highlighted what he said was Robert's refusal to debate him. Last week, Wolf changed his travel plans at the last minute to confront Roberts as he met with business leaders in Emporia, Kansas.

"You told Kansans you would give them your word and you would give them a debate," Wolf said to Roberts.

"You have said it multiple times in multiple places. You tell us that you are tough and you're tested and trusted. And I want you to keep your word on that, I want you to debate. I think Kansans deserve it."

"Milton, Milton, Milton, Milton," Roberts said dismissively. "This is not the time. We have a regularly-scheduled event, a listening tour event. This is not the time."

"When would be the time, senator, because I'll go anywhere you'd like. You've given your word to debate. Let's just debate," Wolf continued as Roberts walked off.

Roberts' campaign was asked why he wouldn't debate.

"The question's not about debating. The question is about an immature candidate with a desperate campaign, an unethical candidate pulling stunts like he did today. When you're 20 points down, these are the kind of desperate stunts you pull," spokesman Sean Fitzpatrick said.

2014 tea party challenges

The primary in Kansas comes six weeks after longtime Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi narrowly won re-nomination, edging out tea party-backed state Sen. Chris McDaniel in a runoff. McDaniel officially contested the results of the June primary runoff on Monday after revealing alleged evidence of voter fraud and irregularities.

While the Kansas contest has made some headlines, it pales in comparison to the Mississippi showdown, which played out in the national political spotlight.

More primary highlights

Also in Kansas, Rep. Mike Pompeo beat former congressman Todd Tiahrt in the Republican primary for the state's 4th Congressional District, CNN projects. Tiahart held the seat for 16 years before giving it up to run for the Senate, ultimately losing in 2010 to Jerry Moran.

Voters in Michigan, Missouri and Washington also voted Tuesday in their respective state's primary contest. Here are some of the highlights:

In Michigan's 3rd Congressional District, the familiar 2014 narrative -- tea party challenger takes on establishment GOP incumbent -- was turned on its head.

Challenger Brian Ellis, a businessman who has support from the Chamber of Commerce, tried to unseat two-term Rep. Justin Amash, a libertarian who won his seat in the 2010 tea party wave that landed Republicans in the House majority.

But despite being outspent, Amash staved off his establishment-backed challenger.

Debbie Dingell, a Democrat, declared victory Tuesday in Michigan's 12th Congressional District against opponent Raymond Mullins. She announced plans earlier this year to run for the seat being vacated by her husband, Rep. John Dingell, the longest serving member of Congress in history.

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