Cennamology Chief Editor
It may seem ironic at first, but it makes perfect sense that Republican Senator Pat Roberts (Kan.) has a much more difficult reelection battle ahead of him after his Democratic opponent dropped out of the race yesterday.
Approximately 45 minutes before the deadline, Taylor notified the Kansas secretary of state's office that he was terminating his campaign and asked to be taken off the November ballot. This paves the way for a head-to-head showdown between Roberts and independent candidate Greg Orman.
Since Taylor's withdrawal, the Kansas Senate election has become the most talked about race in the country. CQ/Roll Call has moved its rating of the race from Republican Favored to Toss-up.
So what makes Kansas different? First of all, Roberts has been performing surprisingly poorly in recent polls. In a three way race, Roberts was leading Taylor by only four points, with Orman surging and Roberts not even breaking a third of the vote. In a two-way race, Roberts was leading Taylor narrowly but losing to Orman by ten points. In other words, Roberts looked like he had a better chance of winning with the Democrat in the race than he did with the Democrat out.
Therefore, by pushing their party's nominee out of the race, Democrats see a rare opportunity to topple a Republican incumbent in a deep-red state. Orman has refused to say what party he will caucus with if elected and reports show that he has donated to both Democratic and Republican candidates in the past. And, unlike Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) in 2012, Orman has not had a previous political career and rather little is known about his stances on the issues. So it's a tossup which party he'll caucus with. However, the way the Democrats see it, Orman has a decent chance of caucusing with them, while Roberts has zero chance.
It is not a far-fetched possibility that after Election Day, there will be 50 Republicans, 49 Democrats, and Greg Orman as the composition of the next Senate. If that is the case, Orman will be the most important man in American politics until the next Congress convenes, as whichever party he chooses to caucus with will have the majority in the senate. If this is the case, whichever party has the majority will owe a lot to Orman, which will make him a very powerful freshman senator.
With Democrats now rallying behind Orman, this race is now a true tossup. In fact, this is the second time this week that a Democratic candidate has dropped out in favor of a Republican. In the Alaska Governors' race, Democratic nominee Byron Mallott dropped out and joined Independent Bill Walker as lieutenant governor, giving the new ticket a better chance at defeating incumbent Republican Sean Parnell than it would have with a three-way race.
Taylor dropping out is not the only reason for Roberts' new-found vulnerability. Orman has been surging recently and has proven to be a prolific fundraiser with the ability to self-fund if necessary. In fact, his campaign had raised over six times as much as Taylor's did, which probably contributed to the latter's decision to drop out.
Also, since the Republican primary (which Roberts only won by seven points against a flawed challenger), the incumbent has faced numerous questions about his residency, as he owns a home in Virginia but only stays at a donor's house when he comes back to Kansas. Roberts has also suffered from many gaffes about his residency, including saying that he "tries to make it back whenever he gets an opponent," to his campaign manager saying that Roberts needed to "go home and rest," after the primary. The "home" he was referring to is in Virginia. Oops.
Roberts may also be suffering from the backlash against unpopular Republican governor Sam Brownback, with whom Roberts served alongside in the senate. Brownback has angered many in his own party by slashing the state's budget and still failing to close the deficit due to irresponsible tax cuts, eliminating funding for school arts programs and increasing funding for the teaching of creationism, and successfully purging the state legislature's Republican caucus of moderates. This has cause a large group of former Republican elected officials in Kansas to endorse Brownback's Democratic opponent Paul Davis. The same day Taylor dropped out, that same group of Republicans endorsed Orman over Roberts.
Polls indicate that Brownback is in very serious trouble in November, as is Roberts. It is evident that Brownback's presence on the ballot is certainly dragging down Roberts' reelection hopes. This proves that there is no such thing as a "safe state." Any state party leadership can anger a good chunk of its base to the point where that crucial part of the electorate is angered with its own party to the point where it feels the only option is to support the other party. Kansas is known as one of the most Republican states in the country, but the failed leadership of Brownback and the sketchy residency issues surrounding Roberts, as well as the strength of their opponents, have turned this conservative safe-haven into a 2014 battleground.
In fact, about a week ago, when the political media was abuzz about a poll showing Scott Brown within two points of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, I was puzzled why that poll was getting all the hype while a poll released just a few days earlier showed Roberts only leading Taylor by low single-digits. Why was the media giving Brown the free press with a good poll in a swing state, but not Taylor or Orman doing well in a state they should have no business doing well in. It may have taken one of the candidates to drop out in order for the so-called "liberal media" to pay attention and realize that a Republican incumbent was in danger, but I am glad that the politicos finally realize that Mitch McConnell is not the only Republican incumbent that may get kicked out by voters in November.
At this point last year, it was difficult to see how Kansas would be a state to watch in November 2014. However, if Greg Orman ends up defeating Sen. Roberts, he may very well be the man who gets to single-handedly decide the senate majority. He may go from an unknown just a few weeks ago, to the most important man in politics by the end of the year. I am very excited to see the outcome of this race, and it has gone from under-the-radar to (in my opinion) the most exciting race of 2014.