In a troubling development for national Republicans, justices for the Kansas Supreme Court hinted that they may reverse a ruling by Secretary of State Kris Kobach to keep former Democratic Senate candidate Chad Taylor on the ballot despite Taylor’s attempts to remove himself from the race.
Republicans cringed earlier this month when Taylor dropped his bid against embattled GOP Senator Pat Roberts who barely fended off a primary challenge from a relatively weak tea party candidate this summer amid questions about his Kansas residency. That’s because Taylor’s exit cleared the way for independent Greg Orman to make a credible play for the seat. Kansas hasn’t elected a Democratic Senator since the 1930s and Orman, who has positioned himself as a non-ideological centrist, is considered the better match in the conservative-leaning state.
Orman has not said which party he will caucus with if he wins, but he previously ran in 2008 as a Democrat and supports immigration reform and the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, raising hopes among party officials that he would ultimately join their side.
Republicans enjoyed a nice chaser to go with Taylor’ exit, however, when Kobach ruled the next day that Taylor would remain on the ballot, potentially drawing support away from Orman.
Now even that small dose of good news is in question. State justices aggressively questioned Kobach’s lawyer during oral arguments on Tuesday over his office’s claim that Taylor was ineligible to drop out because he hadn’t proved he was “incapable” of serving.
“It seems pretty loosey goosey. What are we to do with that?” Justice Dan Biles told Kobach attorney Ed Greim, according to Talking Points Memo. “It seems like the legislature put some requirements in the statute, and you guys are deciding whether you want to comply or not on an ad hoc basis almost.”
Another justice, Carol Beier, questioned whether Taylor’s letter stating his intent to leave the race might represent “substantial” compliance with the law and whether Kobach had discretion to decide whether it rose to that standard.
Rick Hasen, a law professor at UC Irvine and expert on voting rights, wrote in a blog post after observing the hearing that, while nothing was certain, “it is likely the Justices will quickly issue an order removing Taylor’s name from the ballot” based on their questioning.
Even if Taylor remains on the ballot, Roberts still faces a difficult race. A new survey by Public Policy Polling released Tuesday gave Orman a 41-34 lead over Roberts with Taylor garnering 6 percent of the vote and Libertarian Randall Betson getting 4 percent.