Senate up for grabs?

09/04/2014 7:07 PM

09/05/2014 12:07 AM

With the weak Democrat out of the race though apparently still on the ballot, well-funded independent Greg Orman becomes the main obstacle to Sen. Pat Roberts’ re-election – and suddenly Kansas could be the unlikely kingmaker in the ferocious battle for control of the U.S. Senate.

However the increasingly bizarre contest plays out, it’s a nice change to see Kansas in a position of possible influence.

The latest twist came Thursday, when Secretary of State Kris Kobach declined to remove Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor’s name from the Nov. 4 ballot, citing Taylor’s failure to use statutorily required language in his letter.

The end of Taylor’s campaign, though, could add to Orman’s already surprising polling strength against Roberts – and a safe GOP seat starts to wobble for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and its chairman, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan. Some surveys have suggested Roberts would lose a head-to-head contest with Orman, an Olathe businessman.

Because Orman nearly ran against Roberts in 2008 as a Democrat but has deferred a decision on whether he would support a Democrat or Republican for majority leader, the national political media were crunching numbers and going nuts Thursday, as the NRSC took steps to help Roberts and shore up the GOP’s likelihood of retaking the Senate.

Few thought Roberts would have much trouble winning a fourth term, but Kansans’ esteem for Roberts has slipped. A Virginia homeowner, the 78-year-old Roberts isn’t fooling many voters in claiming to be a Kansas resident after having listed his voter-registration address as the home of some Dodge City donors.

And Orman’s ads clearly resonate with the many Kansans who are sick of seeing the House and Senate used for partisan games and gain rather than actual lawmaking. That appeal already led to Wednesday’s endorsement by the group Traditional Republicans for Common Sense.

But Kansans still see and think a lot of Roberts. Many feel like they can trust him to be smart, pragmatic and productive, despite his recent efforts to fit into a more conservative and uncompromising party and caucus. And once he fought off tea partier Milton Wolf last month, Roberts should have been in the clear, given that only Republicans have represented Kansas in the U.S. Senate since 1939.

Can Orman hold up under the coming scrutiny? Does he have an agenda beyond being a feel-good, fresh alternative to Roberts? One key moment will come at the debate with Roberts at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Kansas State Fair, where Kansans will find out what Orman knows about things like farm bills and foreign crises. Libertarian Randall Batson also will be on the Nov. 4 ballot.

One thing seems certain amid all this late-summer madness: With Roberts now being viewed as “the most vulnerable Republican senator in the country,” the fall forecast in Kansas is for a flood of mudslinging.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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