Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., had three growing children when he first joined the House of Representatives in 1994. Flying back and forth between Kansas and Washington on the weekends, he found that he had little time to be with his family. So his family moved to Washington. "It's always been important that I spend as much time as possible with my kids. I didn't want to turn that over to somebody else," Tiahrt told me.
Rep. Jerry Moran, another Kansas Republican, took office in 1997 and had two young daughters. His family stayed in Hays, Kan., he told me, because he and his wife didn't want to raise them in the "crazy" environment of Washington. Moran moved into the C Street house run by The Fellowship Foundation. Three members of Congress who lived or attended gatherings there have been exposed as having extramarital affairs while part of a housing arrangement designed in part to bring accountability among politicians away from their families ("All in the family," Aug. 29, 2009).
The two congressmen's Washington housing choices have become a factor in their battle for the Republican nomination for the Senate seat Sen. Sam Brownback is vacating. Next year's primary fight is the main event in some ways because the seat is virtually guaranteed to a Republican.
Tiahrt trails Moran in both polls and funding, and support has flowed to Moran from C Street. Two of the three senators who are Moran's roommates-Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla.-have endorsed him. Tiahrt and Moran have nearly parallel voting records, but the endorsements were surprising because Tiahrt has been more publicly active in pro-life organizations and causes than Moran, and abortion is a vital issue to DeMint and Coburn. The two senators also are arguably the most contentious Republicans in the Senate, often bucking their party-Moran has a reputation in Kansas for indecision, stemming partly from his waffling on entering the 2006 governor's race against Kathleen Sebelius. He also portrays himself as more of a moderate than Tiahrt, having voted for the SCHIP bill, for example, which provides funding for children's health insurance.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., who attends Bible studies at the C Street house, also endorsed Moran and has helped with fundraisers for Moran along with DeMint and Coburn. Another C Street resident, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., helped with fundraisers for both Moran and Tiahrt earlier this year, before his own affair came to light.
Former C Street resident Chip Pickering, whose affair became public this year after he had left Capitol Hill, donated $1,000 to Moran's campaign. The lobbying firm that now employs Pickering, Capitol Resources, gave $2,688 to the campaign.
Neither Coburn nor DeMint responded to requests for comment. "I wouldn't speak for them, but the fact that everyone that lived in the same house and room-that can't just be a coincidence," Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. told me.
With nine months to go before the Kansas primary, Inhofe is the only Republican senator to endorse Tiahrt. He doesn't live at C Street, but he is closely involved in The Fellowship: "If I lived over there, I might have felt the same way."
Moran uses the residence issue to portray Tiahrt as out of touch with Kansans: "I never moved to Washington, D.C." Moran flies to Kansas almost every weekend, then drives more than four hours to his rural home. Campaign manager Aaron Trost says C Street is "a place to sleep at night," and Moran said its weekly Bible studies and prayers help lawmakers "stay focused on our families back home."
Tiahrt finds DeMint and Coburn's endorsements of his opponent "puzzling." He has the endorsement of other notables-former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, pundit Bill Bennett, and pro-life activist Phyllis Schlafly. But he has raised $1.1 million to Moran's $1.4 million, and Moran has another $1.7 million in reserves.
Neither Moran nor Tiahrt thinks the "roommate" endorsements will play big among Kansas voters. But the insider relationships in Washington translate into capital in the Senate, where friendships as much or more than party affiliation can determine success or failure.