Republican 'tea party' candidate admits 'rumour' he is related to Obama
Radiologist trying to unseat long-time senator in Kansas admits he is the 'unapologetic conservative cousin' of the American president
Orella Hosack, wearing a "Choose Life" shirt and sitting in the Copper Kettle restaurant in Eureka, Kansas, liked what she was hearing from a "tea party" candidate challenging the state's long-time Republican senator.
But she had heard a potentially alarming rumour - that Milton Wolf, the radiologist trying to unseat Senator Pat Roberts in today's primary, is related to US President Barack Obama - and she wanted answers.
"If you've been paying attention to the campaign, you know there are a lot of vicious personal attacks," Wolf replied. "I think you deserve to know that one of the things that Pat Roberts says about me is true. Barack Obama and I are actually cousins."
"First cousins?" someone in the audience shouted with a tone of disbelief.
"Second cousins," Wolf replied. "Can you believe that? The next Ted Cruz is Barack Obama's unapologetic conservative cousin."
Styling himself as an ideological ally to Cruz, the Texas senator, Wolf is the latest tea party insurgent hoping to topple a well-funded Republican incumbent.
The outcome of the primary contest could determine if a state long known for sending moderates to the Senate will take another rightward shift.
Roberts, a 33-year incumbent, is favourite but has flaws. He has taken a number of votes in recent years seen as problematic by the tea party, including increasing the debt ceiling, approving a tax deal with Obama and confirming former governor Kathleen Sebelius as health and human services secretary.
But his biggest troubles began this year after The New York Times reported that he had not really been living in the home he owned in Dodge City, a frontier town on the Arkansas. Instead, he was renting a US$300-a-month room to officially maintain his residency in the state.
Roberts' seemed not to recognise the political danger of his frequent absence, however. "I have full access to the recliner," he joked with a reporter when asked about the rental.
Last month, Roberts, who lives in Virginia, stumbled again in an interview. "Every time I get an opponent - I mean, every time I get a chance, I'm home," he said. "I don't measure my record … as a senator as how many times I sleep wherever it is."
The gaffes have created an opening for Wolf, who is being aided by a Texas team of political strategists and supported by the hard-right Senate Conservatives Fund.
In an interview, Roberts said he was upset that the race had turned in such a negative direction. "I don't think we should be in the business of these other issues that basically represent personal attacks," he said. "I'm the guy who invented listening tours around Kansas. I work hard wherever I am."
But Roberts has not shied away from shooting back. He has released a barrage of television adverts attacking Wolf for posting X-rays of gunshot wounds and other injuries on Facebook and making light of his patients' predicaments.
In one X-ray, revealed by the Topeka Capital-Journal, a skull has been broken apart, with the vertebra exposed, by a gunshot. "One of my all-time favorites," Wolf wrote as a comment on the photo. "What kind of gun blows somebody's head completely off? I've got to get one of those."
Roberts said the behaviour raised serious questions about Wolf's character, while Wolf had apologised to anyone offended by his actions.
Wolf said he met Obama in 2010 during a trip to Kansas City. The president's mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, was a Kansan. Obama's great-great-grandfather, Thomas Creekmore McCurry, is Wolf's great-grandfather.
"I've looked him in the eye, and I've told him he's wrong," Wolf told the crowd at the Copper Kettle in Eureka. He called it the first "family rivalry on the national political stage".