Washington (CNN) – La-Z-Boy is about to get some free advertising in Kansas.
Milton Wolf, a conservative Republican primary challenger to three-term Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, began airing a biting statewide radio ad Wednesday seizing on new questions about the longtime Senator's ties to his home state.
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The New York Times reported last week that while Roberts owns a rental property in his hometown of Dodge City, he lists as his voting address the home of two longtime political supporters who rent out a room to the senator. Roberts told the Times that he stays with the couple when in the area. "I have full access to the recliner," he joked.
Roberts, a former congressman, also owns a home in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, where he spends much of his time.
"He lives in Virginia," a narrator says in the Wolf campaign spot, a copy of which was provided to CNN. "Right by Washington, where Roberts has been for forty-seven years. News reports call Roberts a 'virtual stranger,' 'desperate to reestablish ties to Kansas.'"
Listen to the ad:
The ad, running for a week on conservative radio stations in Kansas, points to Roberts' ill-advised quip about the recliner.
"But Roberts's La-Z-Boy recliner must be terribly lonely," the ad says. "The donor he rents it from can't even remember the last time Roberts stayed there. That's not a home, Senator Roberts. It's an excuse. Truth is, Roberts has left us behind."
The radio ad goes on to criticize Roberts for a series of votes that may rankle Republican primary voters, including his vote to nominate Kathleen Sebelius, a Kansas native and an architect of President Obama's health care reform law, as Secretary of Health and Human Services.
The Roberts campaign reacted furiously to the Times story, attacking the "East Coast" reporter by name and taking issue with the suggestion that the senator does not have a "home" in Dodge City. The campaign said Roberts rents a room from his friends in Dodge City because he cannot stay at the property he rents out.
An adviser to Roberts, Leroy Towns, responded to the radio ad in similarly dismissive terms, calling Wolf "a candidate with near zero support in Kansas."
"This ties him even more to Washington interest groups who want to dictate to Kansas voters," Towns told CNN. "The Kansas support for Senator Roberts is wide and deep because Kansas people know him and his work for the state."
The residency story has nevertheless emerged as an explosive issue in the primary because it underscores Wolf's central thematic attack against the 77-year old Roberts: that he's gone Washington and lost touch with Kansans.
If the little-known Wolf can activate grassroots conservatives, that charge could prove potent in a low-turnout, summertime Republican primary, set for August 5.
And if outside conservative groups decide to get involved in the primary against Roberts, they won't have to dig deep into their coffers: A weeklong television ad buy across Kansas's three biggest media markets might only cost $200,000.
The Wichita Eagle editorialized Wednesday that Roberts and his staff have handled questions about his residency poorly.
"It's been an open secret in Kansas that Pat Roberts doesn't really live in Dodge City, where he owns a property leased to tenants," the paper's editorial board wrote, while also noting that his time in Washington remains asset because of the seniority he's earned in the Senate. "But the state's senior senator invited criticism with his recent residency switch to a house owned by campaign donors."
The paper called Roberts' efforts pass off his donor's residence as his own "ham-handed" and called on the Senator's staff to release details of his visits to the state.
Meanwhile, an election official in Dodge City said Roberts could have simply listed the property he owns and leases to tenants as his official voting residence.
"If you own a home in Kansas and you intend to return there at some point you can register there," Sharon Seibel, the Ford County Clerk, told CNN. "It's just on your word. If you own a home in Dodge City or Ford County, and you are away and doing whatever you do, as long as you plan to return, you can call that their home and as long as you don't register anywhere else."
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach did not respond to repeated inquires about Roberts' residency status.