With a term behind him that included NAFTA negotiations, a controversy over health care and a finalized House Farm Bill, Congressman Roger Marshall will enter the Republican primaries with little likelihood of losing, scholars say.
"He obviously has warded off a serious primary, so he's clearly placated the conservatives and the moderate wing at least to the extent that no one would clearly challenge him," said Patrick Miller, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Kansas. "From the perspective of a member of Congress wanting to be reelected, his first term has been successful."
Nick Reinecker, an Inman café owner who has previously worked as a police officer, volunteer firefighter and an EMT, is challenging Marshall in the Republican primary for the U.S. House in the 1st District, but Miller and others say he doesn't have the money or the backing to win.
Marshall, a Great Bend obstetrician, was elected after his predecessor Tim Huelskamp lost a seat on the House Agriculture Committee. Marshall regained that seat, something Jim Joice, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, said was a win for Kansas farmers.
"We really couldn't be more proud of Congressman Marshall's first term," Joice said. "He's really shaking things up, and getting Kansas back a seat on the ag committee, there's not much else we could ask for."
Marshall has walked a line between supporting the Trump administration and opposing the administration's move toward tariffs, said Michael Smith, professor of political science at Emporia State University.
The Trump administration and China have traded tariffs and threats of tariffs on such items as steel, wheat, soybeans and beef.
Marshall said he plans to continue lobbying the president not to impose tariffs and characterized his relationship with President Donald Trump as one in which they can "agree to disagree."
"I represent one of the strongest pro-Trump districts in the country," Marshall said. "I disagree with him on where he's going with trade and tariffs, but his heart is in the right place, his vision is in the right place. We agree with those, I just don't think he knew the depth of hemorrhaging that was going on in farm country."
Marshall also played a role in crafting the House Farm Bill, which now faces challenges in reconciling with the Senate version. The House version of the bill passed with support only from Republicans, and disagreements are expected over work requirements for food stamps. Marshall has been appointed to the House-Senate conference committee that will work out differences in the bills.
Earlier this year, he traveled to Mexico City to represent Kansas agriculture during NAFTA negotiations, which have largely focused on the steel and automobile industries.
Despite Marshall's work on agriculture, he did not initially receive the endorsement of the Kansas Farm Bureau this year. The bureau made several endorsements earlier, but did not endorse anyone in Marshall's race until Friday.
Smith said he believed the Farm Bureau withheld the endorsement because of rumblings that Marshall hoped to gain a seat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which would mean giving up his seat on the Agriculture Committee.
"After seeking clarification from Rep. Marshall on the importance of representation on the House Agriculture Committee, we stand ready to re-elect the congressman for a second term in 2018," said Rich Felts, Kansas Farm Bureau president, in a news release. "Congressman Marshall has played a key role in the House-passed farm bill and we are excited he was named a conference committee conferee earlier this week."
Marshall said last week that while he had considered the Ways and Means Committee, he had no intention of giving up his Agriculture seat.
Marshall's primary opponent Reinecker said the idea that Marshall might want to leave the Agriculture Committee was one of several reasons why he's running.
"If he does that, he's going to kind of abandon the grassroots effort that got him there in the first place," Reinecker said. "Building upon the ag foundation, I think we need someone who has agriculture in the forefront and goes full steam with it."
If reelected, Marshall said he also wants to focus on immigration and health care. In 2017 he drew national criticism when he said that the poor didn't want health care. If he could take back one thing he said that year, it would be that comment, which he said was "taken out of context."
What he had meant, he said, was that physicians and hospitals also have an obligation to care for the poor.
Reinecker said his own priorities include security, economic growth, cutting back on the national debt and removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act.
It is a "fair assessment" to say he is unlikely to win against Marshall, but it is still worth running, Reinecker said. He's never held an elected office, but has run for positions as state representative, state senator and city council member.
"The Republican Party is kind of at a crossroads," Reinecker said. "They have to define themselves as a conservative party or a non-conservative party."