INDEPENDENCE, Kan. (AP) — Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin urged Kansas Republicans Thursday to unify behind U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, alleging his independent opponent is trying to "snooker" voters in what has become a surprisingly close race.
The 2008 vice presidential nominee donned an apron and flipped pancakes alongside the GOP incumbent, once considered a near lock for re-election but now facing a tough battle from independent businessman Greg Orman after the Democratic candidate withdrew.
She is the latest GOP heavy-hitter to come to Kansas on Roberts' behalf. Two former presidential nominees, U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, have joined Roberts on the campaign trail, and two potential 2016 White House candidates — former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky — are planning to follow.
"Kansas, we are counting on you to get it together," Palin told the crowd of about 250 people attending the pancake breakfast at the Independence Historical Museum and Art Center in the southeastern part of the state.
Orman campaign manager Jim Jonas dismissed Palin's suggestion that the independent was "trying to have it both ways" by targeting Democrats and Republicans alike.
"Kansans know Washington is broken, and politicians like Senator Roberts are part of the problem in Washington," Jonas said in an email. Kansans don't want another politician, they want a proven problem solver who will fix Washington's broken system, and that's why they're supporting businessman Greg Orman's independent campaign for Senate."
Even before the fall campaign began, the 78-year-old conservative incumbent barely survived a bitter Republican primary election against tea party-backed challenger Milton Wolf. Like Orman, Wolf tried to portray him as an out-of-touch Washington insider who no longer actually lives in Kansas.
Earlier this month, Wolf watched the first gubernatorial debate at the Kansas State Fair and declined to say whether he planned to endorse Roberts when asked after it after the debate.
Kansas Republican Party Executive Director Clay Barker said it made sense to bring Palin to southeastern Kansas because it's a strong area for tea party conservatives.
But Chuck Henderson, a founding member of the Flint Hills Tea Party, said Wednesday that Roberts has been condescending to the tea party and "now that he is in trouble he wants us to hold our nose and come to his rescue."
Henderson, who does not support Orman either, said he plans to skip the ballot line for the U.S. Senate race when he votes in November.
"Sarah Palin showing up is not going to win my vote," he said.