There was a political heatwave blanketing a full-capacity arena at the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson Saturday afternoon as three-term incumbent Republican Senator Pat Roberts sparred with his U.S. Senate challenger, Independent Greg Orman.
Sen. Roberts, facing an unexpectedly tough re-election challenge from businessman Orman, at times grew frustrated, struggling to speak over the noise and disruptions of the audience.
“Can you help me here?” Roberts pleaded with the moderator at one point.
In another instance, he scolded hecklers who disagreed with what he was saying, “You can holler all you want, it’s true.”
But Roberts ended where he started and remained during the hour-long confrontation with Orman on the offensive.
After Orman pointed out that “we’ve been sending the worst of both parties to Washington”, Roberts fired back at his opponent by saying he was responsible for President Obama and his “buddy” Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV).
“Why should anyone believe that you’re independent,” Roberts told Orman.
“My opponent wants you to think he’s independent, but he is not.” Roberts said. ”He has given thousands of dollars to Barack Obama, Hillary clinton, and listen to this, Harry Reid.”
You would have thought Harry Reid was on stage too, given how often Roberts tried to paint the Democratic Senate Majority Leader as the orchestrator of gridlock and dysfunction in Washington and calling the Senate a place where “good legislation goes to die.”
“I’ll vote to put Harry Reid out to pasture and stop the gridlock,” he said. ”The Congress can’t do a damn thing with Harry Reid at the helm.”
But Roberts, who has struggled throughout his re-election effort, has faced questions over his residency in the state and Saturday was no different. When pressed again on the subject, Roberts dodged the question and bristled at the implication that he’s been in Washington too long.
“I know more about Kansas that anyone on this stage,” he said. ”I won’t let anyone tell me I’m not from Kansas. I’m from Dodge City and damn proud of it,” he said.
His comment drew a sharp response from Orman which elicited thunderous cheers.
“I suspect, Senator, I’ve been to Dodge City more than you have this year,” said Orman, going on to point out that “it doesn’t matter where he’s from, it matters how he votes.”
What started out as a three-way race is now down to two since the sudden withdrawal of Democrat Chad Taylor. The new dynamics of the contest came up Saturday afternoon. Robert used it as an opportunity to pounce on another one of his Senate colleagues, Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill, who the Washington Post reported had coaxed Taylor out of the race in effort to help Orman.
“When Claire McCaskill calls the Democrat and urges him to get out of the race, something fishy is going on, ” said Roberts. ”Well, I have a message for Claire McCaskill…We’ve had a lot of people come across the border, but stay in Missouri and don’t meddle in Kansas.”
Kanas Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach said that Taylor would remain on the ballot so Democratic voters would not be disenfranchised.
“That’s the first time I’ve heard a Republican complaining about disenfranchising Democratic voters,” Orman said Saturday.
Orman agreed with Roberts that the U.S. should take action on ISIS, that the President should not take executive authority on immigration and on reforming the food stamp program, which he said perpetuates complacency and dependency.