Chad Taylor doesn’t want to be in the race for U.S. Senate, but he’s going to remain on the ballot, at least for now.
The Senate race in Kansas was shaken up for the second time in two days Thursday when Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Taylor had not met the requirements to withdraw from the race and would stay on the ballot.
Kobach said Kansas law requires that candidates who want to be removed from the ballot submit a formal letter and also declare themselves “incapable of fulfilling the duties of office if elected.”
Taylor submitted a letter on Wednesday, the deadline to withdraw, but did not make such a declaration. So he will remain on the ballot, Kobach said.
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Taylor vowed to challenge that decision.
A Kansas Senate ballot that includes a Democrat is widely seen as helpful to Republican Sen. Pat Roberts. A ballot without a Democrat would allow anti-Roberts votes to coalesce around Greg Orman, a well-financed independent. Polls show weak support for Roberts, but he has maintained a lead with Taylor and Orman splitting the bulk of the remaining vote.
Orman would not comment.
Roberts’ campaign underwent a major shake-up Thursday, reflecting growing GOP concerns about the race.
Taylor issued a statement contending that Assistant Secretary of State Brad Bryant had assured him he met all the requirements to withdraw when he submitted a formal letter to the Secretary of State’s Office.
“I specifically asked Mr. Bryant if the letter contained all the information necessary to remove my name from the ballot. Mr. Bryant said, ‘Yes,’ affirming to me, and my campaign manager, that the letter was sufficient to withdraw my name from the ballot,” Taylor said in a statement.
Taylor accused Kobach, a Republican, of acting on behalf of the Roberts campaign.
Kobach denied that Bryant informed Taylor otherwise and contended that Taylor should have read the statute.
“Mr. Taylor is an attorney. He is capable of reading the statute, and the statute is very clear on this point,” Kobach said. “And I would note that many non-attorneys have withdrawn from office in the past and they have all read the statute and made that declaration.”
Taylor’s attempt to withdraw from the race had been met with criticism from the Kansas Republican Party and the Roberts campaign.
Kobach, locked in his own re-election battle, said the party’s position had no bearing on his decision and that the Attorney General’s Office agreed with his interpretation of the law.
Kobach and Attorney General Derek Schmidt are both members of Roberts’ honorary campaign committee, a group of statewide and federal office holders supporting his re-election bid.
Joan Wagnon, chair of the Kansas Democratic Party, accused Kobach of keeping her party’s candidate on the ballot as a way to help Roberts.
“For the second time in two days, I’m flabbergasted,” she said.
“Of all the lengths that they have gone to to try and prop up poor old Pat Roberts, this is ridiculous,” Wagnon said. “I mean he (Taylor) went to the Secretary of State’s Office and followed their directions. They even told him how to write – I’ve been told this secondhand – how to write the letter.”
Clay Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, applauded Kobach’s decision.
“The statute’s goal is to prohibit political gamesmanship and candidate withdraws for tactical gain,” Barker said. “Only candidates who become truly incapable of serving should be able to withdraw after being elected by the primary voters.”
It isn’t clear how Kobach’s office became officially involved in the fight. Wednesday afternoon, his office pulled Taylor’s name from the list of candidates running in the state. Just hours later, it was back – as legal questions swirled around the withdrawal announcement.
GOP officials in Kansas said they did not file a formal request for a review. Instead, they submitted a “summary of argument” document claiming Taylor had not met the legal requirements for withdrawal.
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.
Next option: court
Asked whether there was any way for Taylor to challenge the decision, Kobach said he could take the case to court. He said he had spoken briefly with Taylor’s attorney.
As Taylor intends to challenge, it means that Kansans will get to see a candidate fight in court to have his name removed from the ballot, an extremely rare occurrence.
“I don’t have a good sense for how the courts would rule on this question,” said Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California-Irvine.
No law requires that Taylor actually mount a campaign.
Russell Fox, a political scientist at Friends University, said earlier in the day that Taylor would still draw votes in a general election simply by having a “D” next to his name.
“If Chad Taylor stays on the ballot, a lot of Democrats will vote for Chad Taylor … because that’s what they do, they vote for Democratic candidates,” Fox said.
Jennifer Duffy, a Washington-based analyst with the Cook Political Report, said that even if he remains on the ballot, Taylor has essentially taken himself out of the race.
A chunk of Democrats still could support Orman’s candidacy against Roberts.
“We want to see a Democrat in that position. But we also want to see Pat Roberts defeated,” Lee Kinch, a Wichita attorney who serves as the state party’s vice chairman, said earlier in the day, before Kobach’s decision.
Orman has hundreds of thousands of dollars at his disposal, and poll numbers suggest he poses a genuine threat to Roberts when the two are matched head-to-head.
Those surveys suggest that in a race with Taylor, Orman, Roberts and Libertarian Randall Batson, the anti-incumbent vote would splinter in multiple directions and leave the Republican on top with a plurality.
The race’s emergence as a potentially competitive contest gives national Republicans, hoping to capture a majority in the Senate, new headaches.
“They thought they wouldn’t have to spend a nickel there, and they don’t have extra dollars to spread around,” said independent analyst Stuart Rothenberg.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee on Thursday began working with Roberts to bolster his campaign. The first move is to bring in Chris LaCivita, a veteran party consultant.
Reaction to withdrawal
Taylor’s attempted withdrawal angered Republicans who saw it as the handiwork of national Democrats in an attempt to unseat Roberts.
A spokesperson for U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill confirmed that the Missouri Democrat spoke with Taylor leading up to his decision and urged him to step aside.
“I was happy to visit with Chad Taylor as he wrestled with a difficult decision. He is a respected prosecutor, a great guy and I wish him well,” McCaskill said in a statement.
Reached by telephone on Thursday, Taylor wouldn’t comment on the McCaskill phone call or anything else.
“I’m done. I’m out. I’m withdrawn from the race. I’m not commenting on it,” Taylor said.
McCaskill’s spokesperson said no one at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee or in Senate leadership asked McCaskill to speak to Taylor.
But Republicans were quick to accuse the Democratic party of meddling and alleged a backroom deal had been struck in order to benefit Orman’s candidacy.
Kelly Arnold, chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, accused Democrats of using “corrupt back room deals” and “secret promises” in a bid to defeat Roberts.
“It sure looks like the Kansas Democrat party bosses could not care less about what their own voters think and forced Taylor out,” Arnold said in a statement. “The people of Kansas deserve to know what is going on behind the closed doors of the Democrat power brokers.”
Roberts’ campaign said that Orman’s status as independent is a “smokescreen.”
Orman’s campaign declined to comment on the accusations specifically or comment on the news that Taylor would remain on the ballot.
“We’re focused on talking with the people of Kansas about Greg’s commonsense solutions to the challenges we face,” said Jim Jonas, Orman’s campaign manager.
Contributing: Fred Mann of The Eagle; Dave Helling and Brad Cooper of the Kansas City Star; David Lightman and Lindsay Wise of the McClatchy Washington Bureau