Dr. Milton Wolf wants to be the tea party’s next success story.
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Wolf, who is President Obama’s second cousin, is challenging Sen. Pat Roberts in the Kansas GOP Senate primary, the latest intraparty Republican skirmish of the election cycle.
To take down Roberts, Wolf, 43, hopes to capitalize on the same vein of anti-incumbent sentiment that led to former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s primary loss. Both candidates have faced controversy.
For Roberts, 78, the three-term senator who has worked in Washington for more than 40 years, it was the revelation, first reported by The New York Times, that he doesn’t keep a house in his home state, and instead stays with donors and lists their home as his voting address.
Wolf, a radiologist, is under investigation by a state medical board after the Topeka Capital-Journal reported that he had posted a number of anonymous X-ray images of traumatic injuries to Facebook, and joked about them with friends. (The Capital-Journal also broke the story of the investigation.)
ABC News recently spoke to Wolf about the race, his family and why there should be more doctors in Congress. The following is a Q&A, edited for brevity.
You're related to the president.
I didn’t know that Barack Obama and I were related until 2008. Then-Senator Obama had described in some news account his great uncle Charlie Payne, who had served in World War II. My mother was reading the article in shock, because he was describing her Uncle Charlie!
She and Stanley Ann [Dunham, Obama’s mother] grew up together in Wichita as young girls, but they had lost touch. My mom knew that she had a son, and she kind of put two-and-two together. So they met on a few occasions.
He invited me and my family to meet in 2010 [in Kansas City, Missouri]. There was both family and political talk, but I’ll keep that in confidence. By this point he’s already the president and I’m already his fiercest critic. They call me the arch-nemesis of Obamacare!
You needed training and experience to serve as a doctor. Why is experience a problem when it comes to politics?
I’ve heard the argument that Pat Roberts’s seniority is desired but, in reality, he’s been in Washington for 47 years. He’s had seniority for a quarter of a century! What do we have to show for it? When will this investment in Roberts start paying off?
I agree with what Dr. Ben Carson said: We need more doctors and engineers in Congress than lawyers and politicians. Doctors and engineers are problem solvers by trade, and politicians and lawyers win arguments for a living.
Look at the difference between Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Pat Roberts. Ted Cruz understands something that Pat Roberts never quite figured out: A senator should have something far more powerful than a vote. He should have a voice, and he should use it fearlessly.
Isn’t Sen. Cruz a lawyer?
He is, but he understands communication. And he’s reaching out to people, and he’s enlisting them in a movement. Politicians tend to be scared of voters just as soon as they see the whites of their eyes, especially when they see the pitchforks in their hands. But we need to reach out to people and communicate conservatism and explain why it’s not just effective but compassionate.
Sen. Roberts has attacked you for uploading grisly X-ray images to Facebook of injuries and joking about them with friends. Should voters judge you over the episode?
The reality is that Pat Roberts is not being honest in his allegations. He accuses me of releasing private patient information, but quite frankly he’s lying. We’re talking about anonymous X-rays. If there was an X-ray of you, you would not be able to recognize that it’s you, and there’s a good chance you probably wouldn’t know what body part it is.
Does that make them acceptable?
If any of the commentary I had offended anyone, then I apologize. We’re talking about something years ago that was actually removed years ago, I apologize to anyone I’ve offended. If you have never said anything that you wish you could take back, you may not understand how I feel.
One of the realities of this is that on the campaign trail, I’ve had so many people come up to me -- other healthcare providers, first responders, police officers, folks in the military. People get that we have to joke about some of these things or it will drive us crazy.
Is that an appropriate way to relieve stress?
Those of us who deal with tragedy have to find ways to cope with it, and I’ve seen people cope with it in destructive ways. I’ve seen people led to vice, I’ve seen it tear apart marriages, I’ve seen people get burned out and walk away from the profession. If the humor I used to try and cope with it offended anyone, I apologize. My mistakes are my own. I’ll own my mistakes. If I said anything that offended anyone, I beg them for their forgiveness.
But people who don’t have those roles in society are coming up to us from the very first time the story broke. We could count at every event we’d have somebody come up, there’d always be at least these two: a younger person that would come up and say, ‘I’ve never heard of you before until the advertisements, and I want to see you for myself.’ The other is typically an older person that would say, ‘I cannot believe he is running those advertisements against you.’
So this has helped you?
I think it has. It’s hard to show how it has hurt me, other than people from afar who think it has been a bigger issue from Kansas voters than it has.
You recently ambushed Sen. Roberts on the campaign trail and challenged him to a debate. How did you know where he was?
We were on our bus tour, and he’d show up in a few towns where we had stopped. He kept claiming he didn’t have time to debate because he was so busy, yet there he was. He had put out an invitation to meet at a local business.
He particularly wanted to talk with business owners about health care and tax policy, and guess what? I’m a small business owner, and I wanted to talk with him about health care and tax policy, and why he put [former Health and Human Services Secretary] Kathleen Sebelius in charge of Obamacare. But most importantly, I wanted him to be a man of his word, because he promised he would debate me. But if he can’t stand up to me, how can he stand up to Barack Obama and Harry Reid?
Should Mississippi Republican Senate Candidate Chris McDaniel, a fellow tea partier, concede defeat to Sen. Thad Cochran? [McDaniel recently filed a legal challenge to the results of the primary, claiming that many votes for Cochran were invalid.]
Let’s be clear on what happened in Mississippi. It was an outright betrayal by the Republican establishment. If there’s fraud in an election, it ought to be uncovered and remedied. And if we have an election that is invalid based on illegal voters, I believe they ought to hold that election again, and throw out the results of the fraudulent election.
We know where you’ll be if you win your race. But what if you lose? Will you consider running for office again?
I believe I’m going to run for office one more time, and that is for re-election in six years. I’d rather practice medicine than politics. I’m not running this race for any other reason than to win it. My mission is to save the Republican Party and save the republic. And I believe I’m going to win. We need to reclaim our Congress for the citizens.