The Kansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a Democratic Senate candidate's name be removed from the ballot ahead of November's election.
The ruling throws a wrench in the Republican Party's quest for control of the Senate.
Chad Taylor had dropped his Senate bid against incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts earlier this month -- a move that Democrats cheered, because it cleared the way for a competitive race between Independent candidate Greg Orman and Roberts, who looks more vulnerable in a two-way race. A Fox News poll conducted within the last week showed Orman leading Roberts 48%-42% in a head-to-head match-up.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, however, ruled that Taylor couldn't withdraw his name from the ballot, citing a state law that requires candidates to be "incapable" of serving if they wish to withdraw from a race. The court settled the matter Thursday.
"[Kobach] shall not include Taylor's name on any ballots for the office of United States Senate for the general election on November 4, 2014," Judge Michael J. Malone wrote to conclude his ruling.
"This has political implications, as it will likely cause more Democrats to vote for independent Greg Orman instead of incumbent Republican Pat Roberts," University of California-Irvine law professor Rick Hasen wrote on his blog. "It puts the seat, and perhaps the Senate, up for grabs. But there’s a wrinkle. There is still possible Court action now to force Democrats to name a new candidate to replace Taylor on the ballot."
Kobach has reportedly told Democrats they have eight days to name a replacement for Taylor on the ballot.
Orman hasn't said which party he will caucus with if he heads to Washington in November, but some of his policy positions may provide a clue. He supports granting a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. He is also in favor of expanding Medicaid in Kansas under the Affordable Care Act.
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. 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. The GOP needs to pick up six seats to gain control of the Senate -- and having to sweat over another race less than two months before Election Day is the last thing the party wants.
Beny Sarlin contributed reporting.