Is Pat Roberts really 10 points behind in Kansas Senate race?

Pat Roberts is unpopular and the GOP brand is suffering in Kansas, as Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's big tax cuts led to cuts in state services, not promised jobs. But Kansas is still a deep red state, and the NBC/Marist poll may be an outlier.

Charlie Riedel/AP/File
Republican Sen. Pat Roberts (l.) and Greg Orman walk to the stage before a Senate debate in Hutchinson, Kan., on Sept. 6, 2014. Mr. Orman, an independent candidate challenging Roberts for the US Senate in Kansas, has turned a long-shot independent bid into a threat to the veteran senator and the GOP’s hopes of winning back the Senate majority.

Wow – is Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts (R) really trailing independent candidate Greg Orman by 10 points? That’s what an NBC/Marist poll released this weekend shows. The survey has Senator Roberts at 38 percent and Mr. Orman at 48 percent in their unusual Democrat-free contest. State Democratic nominee Chad Taylor withdrew on Sept. 3.

The Marist results are bad news for Roberts in more ways than one. He’s not just behind – he’s also personally unpopular. Almost half of likely Kansas voters have an unfavorable view of a guy who’s been one of their senators since 1997. Only 37 percent have a favorable view of Roberts, a stunning fall for a long-time incumbent.

Orman, on the other hand, is well above water in the Marist results. Forty-six percent like him, while only 26 percent say they do not.

Roberts’s troubles, as evidenced by this poll, have been the subject of lots of political discussion this morning. No wonder – if the GOP loses an incumbent in Kansas, it makes it harder for the party to capture overall Senate control.

As has been widely reported, Roberts does not personally own a home in Kansas. That’s one big reason he’s behind, as voters see him as someone increasingly distant from the state he’s supposed to represent.

The GOP brand also may be suffering somewhat in Kansas, as Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s big tax cuts have led to big cuts in education and other state programs without (yet) spurring a leap in economic growth.

But this is just one poll. And it’s something of an outlier. Roberts’s position may not be as desperate as the Marist survey implies.

True, he’s still behind in the RealClearPolitics average of major polls. But the margin is about 5 percent, not Marist’s 10. And a CBS/YouGov poll released last week shows the Kansas Senate race virtually tied, at 36 percent for Roberts, 35 percent for Orman.

Given that, some election prognosticators basically shrugged at the Marist results. The FiveThirtyEight data journalism site forecast remained virtually the same: a 65 percent chance of an Orman victory in November and a 59.4 percent chance of a GOP takeover of the Senate.

Marist polls typically lean a few points in a Democratic direction, noted FiveThirtyEight poll expert Harry Enten. Plus, Kansas remains a very Republican state, which figures into the site’s forecast.

“We need more data to have a more confident idea of where this race is heading,” writes Enten.

Even if Orman wins, there’s no guarantee he’ll caucus with the Democrats. At various times, he’s been a registered member of both parties. He’s indicated that he’ll line up with whichever party wins a Senate majority. If neither does, and he’s in the position to decide, he’ll listen to offers.

That would be fun to watch.

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