Democrat drops out of Kansas Senate race, which may help Democrats

After a bruising battle with a tea party primary rival, GOP Sen. Pat Roberts looked set to hold his seat. But the momentum now appears to be with Independent Greg Orman, who is backed by Democrats and disaffected Republicans.

By , Decoder contributor

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    Independent US Senate candidate Greg Orman speaks with reporters Wednesday at the statehouse after it was announced that the group 'Traditional Republicans for Common Sense' were endorsing him over incumbent Republican Pat Roberts and Democratic nominee Chad Taylor. Standing behind Orman is former state legislator and Traditional Republicans for Common Sense member Rochelle Chronister.
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The Democratic nominee in Kansas has dropped out of the race for United States Senate, and there are several analysts who believe that this may actually end up helping Democrats:

The race for U.S. Senate in Kansas no longer has a Democrat in it.

In a stunning development, candidate Chad Taylor asked Wednesday that his name be removed from the ballot, paving the way for independent candidate Greg Orman to face U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts head-on in November.

“After much consideration and prolonged discussion with my supporters, my staff, and party leadership at every level, I have decided to end my campaign for the United States Senate,” Taylor said in an exclusive statement to The Eagle.

“I have great love for the state of Kansas and the people that live here. I will continue work in their best interest every day, but effective today, my campaign is terminated,” said Taylor, the district attorney for Shawnee County.

Taylor would not talk further about why he was dropping out, and Kansas Democratic Party chairwoman Joan Wagnon offered few clues as to the reasons behind his decision.

“We’re still assessing to see what this means,” she said Wednesday evening. “What I really want to see is Pat Roberts vanished from the Capitol.”

Leroy Towns, Roberts’ campaign manager, called Orman a “closet Democrat” and said Roberts would prevail by running on his record.

Orman’s candidacy, buoyed by television commercials and social media, has received national attention. Although he trailed both major party candidates in the polls, several analysts saw him as the candidate with momentum in the race. Taylor’s decision to quit came the same day that more than 70 former Republican lawmakers endorsed Orman.

“He’s created a buzz for himself, and that’s pretty impressive for an independent candidate,” said Michael Smith, a professor of political science at Emporia State University.

Orman would lead Roberts 43 percent to 33 percent in a head-to-head race, according to an August poll from Public Policy Polling.

Another poll from SurveyUSA showed Orman was attracting voters from across the political spectrum.

“Roberts has the fight of his life on his hands. And if you were going to cast a vote right now, you’d be talking about Kansas sending, I believe, our first independent to Congress. This is huge,” said Chapman Rackaway, a professor of political science at Fort Hays State University. He predicted Taylor’s supporters would flock to Orman.

The Hays Daily News published an editorial last week calling for Taylor to drop out of the race in order to make room for Orman. And Jim Sherow, the Democratic House candidate in the 1st District, endorsed Orman over Taylor.

Taylor’s campaign had dismissed the calls to step aside.

“Put Greg Orman up on the same stage as Chad Taylor, and Chad Taylor wins that debate every day of the week,” his campaign spokesman, Brandon Naylor, had said last month.

Now Orman will share a stage at this weekend’s Kansas State Fair debate with only Roberts, who emerged from the Republican primary with less than 50 percent of the vote after a bruising battle with tea party candidate Milton Wolf.

The Senate race also includes Libertarian Randall Batson, who has failed to break 5 percent in any polls.

Under state law, a nominated candidate “who declares that they are incapable of fulfilling the duties of office if elected” can withdraw by notifying the state by a set deadline. That deadline was Wednesday.

Ordinarily, of course, the prospect of a Democratic nominee dropping out of a race with less than eight weeks left before Election Day would seem to be good news for a Republican like Roberts, who seemed as though he was heading for an easy victory after holding off a challenge from Tea Party-backed candidate Milton Wolf last month. These are not ordinary times in Kansas, though, In addition to the presence of what seems like a strong independent candidate on the ballot in the Senate race, we are also seeing the Republican Party in the very Republican Sunflower State being ripped apart. To some degree, this is happening because of the same establishment v. Tea Party battles that we’ve seen elsewhere in the country, and which played out in the Roberts v. Wolf GOP primary campaign. In addition to that, however, the rather ineffective tenure of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has caused a rift in the party, as well as damaging the reputation of the party nationwide. Governor Brownback’s tenure has been marked more notably by deep tax cuts that have left the state with serious budget problems, and that has led many Republicans to endorse his Democratic opponent and others to just stay out of the race completely. Indeed, at the moment, it looks as though Brownback is going to lose his reelection bid. To some degree at least, it would seem as though Orman, in his independent bid for the Senate, has capitalized on the frustration with the state Republican Party, and has even managed to snag endorsements from state and local party officials.

As the polling has shown Orman drawing a significant share of the vote in the weeks since the GOP primary, there have been reports that state Democratic leaders were considering the possibility of abandoning their own nominee and backing the independent candidate on the theory that he may have a better chance of picking up what otherwise would be a safe Republican seat. This wouldn’t be an unprecedented move since it is essentially what the party did two years ago in Maine when national Democrats were openly backing independent Angus King over the nominee of the Maine Democratic Party, and state party officials essentially sat out the race. In this case, while Taylor has been slightly ahead of Orman in the polls, the assessment has apparently been that the independent candidate would have a better chance of winning in November given the fact that Kansas hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate since the 1930s and Orman’s campaign today has been drawing support almost equally from Democrats and disaffected Republicans. With Taylor out and Orman the sole significant opponent to Roberts in the race, the logic seems to be that the combination of the dissatisfaction with the GOP that Brownback seems to have helped created with Orman’s populist appeal would be enough to deny the GOP a win in a state that nobody was expecting.

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There is one crucial element to this entire plan, of course. So far at least, Orman has not indicated which party he would caucus with if he managed to get elected to the Senate. The closest he’s come are comments where he has said that he doesn’t think that he could vote for either Harry Reid or Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader, instead suggesting that he’d prefer to see someone like North Dakota Democrat Kristi Noem or Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski in that position. Since that isn’t going to happen, though, one suspects that reporters will press Orman to be clearer on what his intentions might be should he win the election. In that regard, it would likely be wise for him to follow the lead of Angus King, who said two years ago when he was faced with the same questions that he would base his decision on which party to caucus with on what was best for his constituents. That’s not exactly a complete answer, but it leaves the candidate with enough wiggle room to avoid having to answer the question over and over again on the campaign trail.

Prior to yesterday’s withdrawal, Roberts was leading the Senate race, but by a far smaller margin than you might have expected from a long-term incumbent such as himself. The PollTracker average, for example, has Roberts at 35.3%, Taylor at 29.7%, and Orman at 21%. A fourth candidate, Libertarian Party nominee Randall Batson is averaging 3.7%. With Taylor now out of the race, we’ll have to wait at least a week or more to see the first polling of a Roberts-Orman matchup, but one suspects that it will be Orman that will see the biggest jump in the polls. Obviously, if you add the numbers for Taylor and Orman together, that would suggest that Orman could end up being in the lead. While this may end up being the case, what is unclear at the moment is how many of the Republicans who may have been backing Orman will stick with him now that we’ve got a two-man race against the Republican nominee. At the very least, this is going to be an interesting one to watch and, if Kansas becomes a seat that the GOP has to worry about defending, then it is going to have a huge impact on the race for the Senate as a whole.

Doug Mataconis appears on the Outside the Beltway blog at http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/

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