The race for U.S. Senate in Kansas no longer has a Democrat in it.
In a stunning development, candidate Chad Taylor asked Wednesday that his name be removed from the ballot, paving the way for independent candidate Greg Orman to face U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts head-on in November.
“After much consideration and prolonged discussion with my supporters, my staff, and party leadership at every level, I have decided to end my campaign for the United States Senate,” Taylor said in an exclusive statement to The Eagle.
“I have great love for the state of Kansas and the people that live here. I will continue work in their best interest every day, but effective today, my campaign is terminated,” said Taylor, the district attorney for Shawnee County.
Taylor would not talk further about why he was dropping out, and Kansas Democratic Party chairwoman Joan Wagnon offered few clues as to the reasons behind his decision.
“We’re still assessing to see what this means,” she said Wednesday evening. “What I really want to see is Pat Roberts vanished from the Capitol.”
Leroy Towns, Roberts’ campaign manager, called Orman a “closet Democrat” and said Roberts would prevail by running on his record.
Orman’s candidacy, buoyed by television commercials and social media, has received national attention. Although he trailed both major party candidates in the polls, several analysts saw him as the candidate with momentum in the race. Taylor’s decision to quit came the same day that more than 70 former Republican lawmakers endorsed Orman.
“He’s created a buzz for himself, and that’s pretty impressive for an independent candidate,” said Michael Smith, a professor of political science at Emporia State University.
Orman would lead Roberts 43 percent to 33 percent in a head-to-head race, according to an August poll from Public Policy Polling.
Another poll from SurveyUSA showed Orman was attracting voters from across the political spectrum.
“Roberts has the fight of his life on his hands. And if you were going to cast a vote right now, you’d be talking about Kansas sending, I believe, our first independent to Congress. This is huge,” said Chapman Rackaway, a professor of political science at Fort Hays State University. He predicted Taylor’s supporters would flock to Orman.
The Hays Daily News published an editorial last week calling for Taylor to drop out of the race in order to make room for Orman. And Jim Sherow, the Democratic House candidate in the 1st District, endorsed Orman over Taylor.
Taylor’s campaign had dismissed the calls to step aside.
“Put Greg Orman up on the same stage as Chad Taylor, and Chad Taylor wins that debate every day of the week,” his campaign spokesman, Brandon Naylor, had said last month.
Now Orman will share a stage at this weekend’s Kansas State Fair debate with only Roberts, who emerged from the Republican primary with less than 50 percent of the vote after a bruising battle with tea party candidate Milton Wolf.
The Senate race also includes Libertarian Randall Batson, who has failed to break 5 percent in any polls.
Under state law, a nominated candidate “who declares that they are incapable of fulfilling the duties of office if elected” can withdraw by notifying the state by a set deadline. That deadline was Wednesday.
Kansas Republican Party director Clay Barker wasn’t sure Taylor’s letter met the legal standard.
“I am curious about what changed in his life in the last week that he is now incapable of fulfilling the duties,” he said.
“He was campaigning last week, telling people he was all in. He was telling everybody that Orman can’t win … and suddenly he withdraws. There has to be a reason.”
Money may have been a factor. In mid-July, Taylor had $1,673 in his campaign account, compared with Roberts’ $1,445,897. Orman’s campaign had $362,592.
Orman issued a statement saying, “This is certainly an unexpected turn of events. Chad Taylor is a committed public servant. He ran an honorable campaign and worked hard, and I wish him and his family well.”
On Wednesday, Orman’s campaign announced an endorsement from Traditional Republicans for Common Sense, a group of former lawmakers that includes many of the moderates that endorsed Democrat Paul Davis over Gov. Sam Brownback in July.
“Our members know leadership, because they’ve been leadership,” said Jim Yonally, the group’s chairman and a former state representative from Overland Park. “Our members have been there. They’ve been on the front line. They’ve had to make the tough decisions.”
The group sees Orman as a pragmatist who can broker compromises between the two parties, said Rochelle Chronister, who previously represented Neodesha in the House and was chairwoman of the Kansas Republican Party.
“This has been the most do-nothing Congress ever,” Chronister said. “They can’t even pass an appropriations bill to keep the government running.”
Chronister said that Roberts has moved too far to the right in recent years.
Leroy Towns, Roberts’ campaign manager, dismissed the criticism early in the day.
“I think that group has already shown its colors. And its colors are more Democrat than it is Republican, no matter what label they want to put themselves under,” Towns said.
After Taylor withdrew from the race, Towns released a statement calling Orman’s independent candidacy a “smokescreen.”
“It makes clear what has been obvious from the start: Orman is the choice of liberal Democrats,” Towns said. “We are confident that Kansas voters will quickly see through this charade foisted on Kansas by Orman and his Democrat allies.”
Orman formed an exploratory committee in 2008 for a potential run against Roberts as a Democrat but in the end decided against running that year.
“I didn’t feel very comfortable carrying a party label,” Orman said about his decision. “Ultimately, I want to go to Washington and I want to serve as a problem solver, not a partisan. I don’t want to feel like there are any particular groups that I have to support in order to be serving my constituents.”
‘Vague on issues’
Both Traditional Republicans for Common Sense and the group Women for Kansas have cited Orman’s independence rather than his stance on any particular issue as the chief reason for supporting him over the major party candidates.
Smith noted that Orman’s commercials, which show a winless game of tug-of-war between men wearing blue and red shirts, appeal to voters frustrated by partisanship but that the ads don’t actually say what Orman would like to accomplish if elected.
“It’s incredibly vague. He mentions no issues at all. It’s professionally produced. It’s slick and professional,” Smith said. “But it doesn’t contain any information about where he stands on any issues.”
Smith said the puzzle for Orman is that to win in November, he needs to draw voters who would normally support the Democrat on the ballot. But if he actively courts the Democratic base, he could risk alienating moderate Republican and independent voters.
“If he courts them too hard, he will position himself to the left, and this is a red state, after all. And Milton Wolf took a chunk out of Pat Roberts’ hide by running to his right,” Smith said. “And I think that explains why this ad spot we’ve seen is so vague on issues.”
Orman emphasizes pragmatism when discussing issues. He has called for the country to get spending under control but has no plans to participate in the gamesmanship over raising the debt ceiling that has become routine in Washington in recent years.
“One of things we’ve talked about a lot in our campaign is that we need to start living within our means as a country,” Orman said. “But with that said, if I’m faced with the choice between defaulting on our debt and keeping our government open, I choose sanity.
“I’m a pro-sanity candidate,” he added.
He is also careful when discussing foreign policy and the threat posed by the terror group the Islamic State, previously known by the acronym ISIS.
“I do think we need to take all reasonable measures to stop ISIS, but I think it’s a very complicated issue. I was talking to my foreign affairs advisers yesterday, and I described it as like three-dimensional chess, and their comment to me was that it’s significantly more complicated than that,” Orman said.
He said he supports continuing airstrikes in the regions of Syria and Iraq occupied by the Islamic State. He also thinks the country needs to find a way to support the Kurdish population as a moderate force.
One issue that Orman repeatedly brings up on the campaign trail is health care affordability, which he says was a problem before the Affordable Care Act and continues to be a problem.
Orman said the act failed to address the underlying driver of health care costs: reimbursement for quantity of care rather than quality.
Contributing: Dave Helling and Brad Cooper of Kansas City Star