TOPEKA, Kan. — Republican Sen. Pat Roberts is facing questions about whether he lives in his native Kansas or the Washington, D.C., area.
Roberts was born in Topeka, holds his degree from Kansas State University and makes a point of spending much of his congressional breaks crisscrossing the state. But he’s worked in Washington as an aide and member of Congress since the late 1960s, and he owns a home in suburban Alexandria, Va.
“Kansas is my home. It’s always been my home,” Roberts responded during an interview Monday. “It was my great-grandparents’ home.”
Where the 77-year-old Roberts stays when he’s not working in Washington is getting new scrutiny after a Feb. 7 New York Times story suggested he was “desperate” to re-establish ties with his home state.
“It’s a symptom of the greater problem, which is the profound arrogance of Washington politicians,” said Roberts’ GOP opponent, Milton Wolf, a 42-year-old radiologist. “This gets right down to the core.”
Wolf, who’s running as a tea party candidate, has promised to serve only two, six-year terms in the Senate if he wins, and he said Monday that he’ll continue to practice medicine.
The three-term senator and his wife own a duplex unit in Dodge City, Kan., but it has a tenant. He’s registered to vote at another Dodge City address less than half a mile to the south, a home belonging to another couple, longtime friends and supporters, where he rents a room and a bathroom for $300 a month. The owners, Cecil Duane and Phyllis Ross, did not return a telephone message left on Monday.
Wolf said he was offended by Roberts’ joke, reported in the New York Times story, that at the home of his friends, the senator has “full access to the recliner.”
It’s not yet clear how much the questions hurt Roberts as he runs for re-election. The Kansas primary is Aug. 5. Roberts’ re-election campaign began the year with $2.24 million in cash on hand; Wolf’s had about $179,000.
Republican state Rep. Michael Houser endorsed Wolf publicly before the issue arose and said his biggest issue is that Roberts has been in the Senate “long enough.”
But state Rep. Scott Schwab, also a Republican, said the issue of Roberts’ home is insignificant, adding, “I send my Christmas card to Senator Roberts in Dodge City, and he gets it every year.”
Roberts won his Senate seat in 1996, though his Democratic opponent suggested that he’d already been in Washington too long. In 2008, Democratic challenger and former U.S. Rep. Jim Slattery raised the same issue, but Roberts ran negative television ads noting Slattery’s work as a Washington lobbyist.
Burdett Loomis, a University of Kansas political scientist, said Roberts’ longevity in Washington is an issue but was skeptical that Wolf can topple the incumbent with it. Bob Beatty, a political scientist at Washburn University of Topeka, said Wolf must hit on the issue repeatedly in mailers or ads.
“A very effective campaign slogan or campaign narrative is that the incumbent is out of touch,” Beatty said. “What a challenger wants is something to back that up.”
Property tax records available online from Ford County, Kan., where Dodge City is located, show that the duplex unit owned by Roberts and his wife had an appraised value of $104,800 for 2013. The one-story unit has 1,172 square feet of space, two bedrooms and three baths with a full basement, according to the records.
Those records also list the Roberts’ address as Alexandria, Va. Roberts said he purchased the Dodge City duplex unit in 1992, and his latest U.S. Senate disclosure form says he receives between $5,000 and $15,000 a year in rental income a year from it.
Also in the disclosure form, Roberts lists his Virginia home as being worth between $500,000 and $1 million.
Wolf said he and his wife have owned their Leawood home since 2005. Online Johnson County tax records said the four-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath home was appraised in 2013 at $695,000.