Democratic nominee Chad Taylor has withdrawn from the Kansas Senate race, setting up a competitive race between longtime Republican Sen.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.
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.