The Soft Kansas Underbelly of the GOP Senate Drive

Well, kudos to my colleague Martin Longman for being all over this–and to Princeton’s Sam Wang, who was the first national political observer to write about it. “It” is the withdrawal of the Democratic Senate nominee in Kansas, Shawnee County district attorney Chad Taylor, in order to boost the chances of a victory by independent Greg Orman. Said independent’s got the money and the positioning to threaten and perhaps even beat vulnerable Republican incumbent Pat Roberts, who had some trouble dispatching flawed Tea Person Milton Wolf last month and has suffered from chronically poor approval ratings.

A PPP survey in mid-August showed Orman leading Roberts by ten points in a hypothetical two-candidate race, which produced the speculation that ultimately convinced Taylor to get out of the way. Republicans are immediately claiming that Taylor didn’t meet the requirements for getting his name off the ballot, and/or that Democrats will be required to choose a replacement. But all the furor will just make it even clearer to voters that it’s a two-person race no matter how many names are on the ballot.

Kansas Democrats seem very happy with this development. Orman’s High Broderist message of bipartisanship and fiscal rectitude may be annoying to them, but it’s not that different from what some red-state Democratic candidates–notably Georgia’s Michelle Nunn–are saying. The bigger problem is what Orman won’t say: which party he’d caucus with if he wins. For all we know, a Senate hanging in the balance could be held hostage by Orman and Angus King, and the Erskine-Bowles Commission report could arise from its grave.

But that’s clearly a risk Democrats are willing to take. And the big picture irony intensifies: one of the most Republican states in the country could be on the brink of ejecting from office its Republican governor (himself a former Senator) and senior U.S. Senator, in part as the result of a GOP civil war caused by a right-wing takeover and purge of the state party.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.