Two relative political newcomers are vying to return a western Kansas congressional seat to Democratic hands for the first time in nearly two decades, banking on hopes that voters will opt for a fresh start amid tough economic times for a redrawn district dominated by the aviation industry.


 Two relative political newcomers are vying to return a western Kansas congressional seat to Democratic hands for the first time in nearly two decades, banking on hopes that voters will opt for a fresh start amid tough economic times for a redrawn district dominated by the aviation industry.

Neither Robert Tillman or Esau Freeman, both of Wichita, have held elected office before, but both say anti-incumbent sentiment could help Democrats upset Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo in the 4th District.

"Basically, I'm running to help the people of the state of Kansas," said Tillman, 66, who lost the 2010 Democratic primary for the seat.

The last Democrat to hold the seat was Dan Glickman, who was elected in 1976 but lost to Republican Todd Tiahrt in 1994. Glickman later was appointed agriculture secretary by President Bill Clinton.

The heart of the 4th District is Wichita, the largest city in Kansas, and Sedgwick County where aviation has been the dominant industry for nearly a century. Companies such as Beech, Cessna and Boeing are household names even through changing economic times.

But the industry has gone through numerous changes and challenges. Boeing is leaving town when it closes its defense work in 2013, and Hawker Beechcraft is in bankruptcy and the target of a Chinese buyer.

When a three-judge federal panel redrew the district boundaries in June, the district shifted west to include additional rural counties, shedding Montgomery County in southeast Kansas.

Pompeo, 48, has been active in Republican politics for years, serving as Kansas Republican national committeeman. He was elected in 2010 to his first term, beating state Rep. Raj Goyle by a 59-36 percent margin. Pompeo replaced GOP Rep. Todd Tiahrt who decided not to seek re-election and lost the Republican U.S. Senate primary to Jerry Moran.

Pompeo is unopposed in the Aug. 7 primary but has more than $1 million in cash on hand for the November general election.

Tillman spent 30 years working on social issues, including 24 years as a court services officer. He said he's proud to be a Democrat and feels the focus if he gets elected should be on helping poor and middle-class residents.

"It's been an era where most of the social programs that have been put in place have been eliminated," Tillman said. "My overall focus is going to be on helping people, not grandstanding like Republicans."

Tillman said he learned from his 2010 campaign that voters don't always know the facts on issues, including so-called "push-button issues" like health care and abortion.

"The people I talk to want health care. I want health care. I need health care," he said, adding that he doesn't think Republicans want to solve the issue but want to keep it going for political purposes. "It's just a push-button issue to rile people up."

Freeman, 38, is an artist and home and maintenance painter. He said he grew tired of hearing all his life that there were "others out there who are smarter" who will fix the nation's problems.

"We have to stand up and take a part in society," Freeman said. "We can't continue to hire CEOs and bank presidents to run our country. It's time for normal citizens to run for office. I've lost hope that there are people who are going to solve it."

Freeman said he wasn't raising a lot of money for the race, equating it to "a popularity contest," instead using social media and public forums to spread his message. He is concerned about what he sees as attacks on abortion rights and access to contraception and wants to protect federal education funding.

"The older I've got, I've learned you can't fight the law, but you can change the system. This is the only constructive way that I can see that you make change," he said.

Job creation is the top issue for Pompeo, starting with working in Congress to prevent new regulations that he said stymies business growth.

"You don't put policies in place that impede risk taking and people who want to build their next business," he said. "We have to create a climate that is encouraging risk-taking."

He said policies that are good for the district will help the nation, starting with business and tax policies that don't discourage the purchase of aircraft. Pompeo is critical of President Barack Obama's comments that corporations that own jets should be discouraged from such practices, at the expense of aviation manufacturers.

"He uses the idea that a business owner in Minnesota who wants to fly a jet elsewhere in the country to look at his operations is somehow bad," Pompeo said.

He said he was "thrilled" to be on the ballot with Mitt Romney in November and what it could mean for change in the United States.

"I think that his clear vision for a family-private sector centered America is appropriate," Pompeo said.