{{show_title_date || "Senate game changer! Kansas Dem drops out, boosts Independent, 9/3/14, 10:45 PM ET"}}

Democrat Chad Taylor drops out of Kansas Senate race – and Democrats cheer

Updated

Democratic nominee Chad Taylor has withdrawn from the Kansas Senate race, setting up a competitive race between longtime Republican Sen. Pat Roberts and independent candidate Greg Orman. 

Normally, a Democratic nominee dropping out in September would be a disaster for national Democrats. Paradoxically, Taylor’s withdrawal gives the party a significant boost in their effort to retain control of the Senate in the upcoming midterm elections.

Roberts, a 33-year veteran of the House and Senate, looks surprisingly vulnerable after an unconvincing primary win over Republican challenger Milton Wolf, who gave him trouble even after admitting to posting gruesome X-ray images with mocking comments on social media. A PPP poll last month found Roberts garnering just 32% of the vote to 25% for Taylor and 23% for Orman. Another poll from Rasmussen also found Roberts vulnerable.

The Rachel Maddow Show, 9/3/14, 10:45 PM ET

Claire McCaskill key in Senate race game changer

Kasie Hunt, MSNBC political correspondent, talks with Rachel Maddow about the political machinations behind Democrat Chad Taylor dropping out of the Kansas Senate race and the role Claire McCaskill played in a deal that could save the Senate for…
With Taylor out of the race, Orman has a shot to consolidate the apparently considerable opposition to Roberts among Kansas votes.  PPP gave Orman a 43-33 lead in a two-way race. Republicans need a net of six seats to win the majority in the Senate. Having to worry about another race late in the game is the last thing they want. 

Orman, a former Democrat, has not said which party he will caucus with if he wins, potentially setting up a bidding war if he takes office in a 50-50 Senate. He has been running on a non-ideological, pro-business message that stresses cooperation over gridlock. He backs immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and supports implementing Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion in Kansas. While he’s not guaranteed to join them in the Senate, Democrats are a lot happier taking a chance on him versus knowing for sure that Roberts would yet again join the GOP after winning a three-way race.   

Adding to Kansas Republicans’ woes, Roberts can’t count on any coattails from the other major statewide candidate in November. Gov. Sam Brownback is in a tough re-election fight against Democrat Paul Davis amid a fiscal crisis tied to his signature tax cuts. 

Few observers would have considered ultra-conservative Kansas a competitive state in 2014 after Mitt Romney defeated President Obama there by 21 points. The state hasn’t elected a Democratic senator since the 1930s, and Taylor’s exit guarantees the streak will continue. But Orman’s rise is an unexpected headache for national Republicans in a year where coming anywhere short of a Senate majority would be considered a disaster.

Democrat Chad Taylor drops out of Kansas Senate race -- and Democrats cheer

Updated