POLITICS
09/04/2014 06:16 pm ET Updated Sep 04, 2014

Everybody Calm Down About The Kansas Senate Race

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If you spent any time Wednesday scanning headlines and tweets about the Kansas Senate race, you wouldn't be thought a fool to have come away with the notion that something -- sigh ... "game-changing" -- had occurred. The news was that Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor, the Democratic nominee in the race against incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, had pulled out of the race, leaving Roberts to compete with a Libertarian Party nominee and an independent candidate.

The ensuing focus fell on the independent, Greg Orman, a businessman and founder of private equity firm Denali Partners LLC. There was good reason to have done so: Orman's campaign had long insisted that he was the real rival to Roberts, pointing to the fact that he was much more successful at fundraising than Taylor was. That argument has been effectively won by Orman at this point: The fact that Taylor's campaign was largely skint was the prevailing reason he dropped out of the race. Beyond that, Orman has cast himself as a genuine independent. His profile is that of a moderate Democrat, he voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in 2012, and he has made it known that if he's elected, he'll caucus with whatever party is in the majority.

One last thing: an Aug. 19 poll conducted by Public Policy Polling found that when Orman was slotted against Roberts in a head-to-head matchup, Orman won, 43 percent to 33 percent, over Roberts. (Less talked about was the fact that in the same matchup, the number of undecided voters rose to 24 percent, from the 17 percent undecided in both the Taylor-Roberts head-to-head and the four-way scrum among the three aforementioned candidates and Libertarian candidate Randall Batson.)

Hype ensued. "The Senate Race In Kansas Just Got Crazy," said FiveThirtyEight. The Washington Post's Sean Sullivan penned, "Meet Greg Orman, the man who could decide the Senate majority." People seemed to be reaching for their favored drape-measurement implements. And the Roberts campaign reacted with melodramatic suspicion in a statement furnished by campaign manager Leroy Towns:

Chad Taylor's withdrawal from the U.S. Senate race reveals a corrupt bargain between Greg Orman and national Democrats including Senator Harry Reid that disenfranchises Kansas Democrats. It makes clear what has been obvious from the start: Orman is the choice of liberal Democrats and he can no longer hide behind an independent smokescreen.

(For what it's worth, I'll point out that The New Yorker's Sam Wang reports that Orman "has promised to vote out Democrat Harry Reid as majority leader if he gets the chance.")

With all that in mind, let's calm down, shall we? There are a lot of reasons to distrust the notion that something epochal has happened in Kansas. It begins with this little remarked-upon part of Wednesday's story: "Staff in Secretary of State Kris Kobach's office indicated Wednesday night that Taylor's name would be retained on the candidate list until legal issues related to his withdrawal could be studied. Apparently, there is uncertainty that Taylor’s affidavit met requirements of state law to renounce a nomination. Another question centers on whether the Kansas Democratic Party must select a replacement or leave the ballot blank."

See, Chad Taylor may be done with the Kansas Senate race, but that does not necessarily mean that the Kansas Senate race is done with Chad Taylor. As The Hill's Alexandra Jaffe reports, there are "two election law statutes" that may impede Taylor's flight from the race:

One statute declares that, except under specific circumstances, "no person who has been nominated by any means for any national, state, county or township office may" withdraw their name from the ballot after Primary Day.

Those circumstances include death and if a nominee "declares that they are incapable of fulfilling the duties of office if elected ... by a request in writing."

While Taylor did submit a request in writing to the secretary of State's office withdrawing his nomination and asking to be withdrawn from the ballot pursuant to that same statute, the letter makes no claim that the candidate would be unable to fulfill his duties if elected.

According to Jaffe, a second statute indicates that if the Kansas secretary of state takes Taylor's name off the ballot, the Democratic Party may be obligated to replace him with somebody else.

For the moment, however, Taylor's efforts to quit the race have gotten hung up on the former statute. According to TPM's Dylan Scott, Kris Kobach -- a Republican who you might remember as the higher mind behind many of Arizona's draconian immigration laws -- is not in any rush to do Orman or the Democrats any favors. Per Scott:

During a televised press conference Thursday afternoon, Kobach read from the relevant Kansas law, specifically the provision that states a candidate must declare their incapacity to serve if elected. He said that Taylor had not made such a declaration.

"We now have no choice to keep his name on the ballot," Kobach said.

Of course, none of this may prove to matter, depending on how well Taylor's "Don't actually vote for me" campaign and Orman's "Don't forget that Taylor dropped out of the race" campaign combine to inform Kansas voters. But there are other factors to consider, such as, "Maybe Orman's threat to Roberts is a wee bit overhyped, seeing as it's almost entirely based on a single PPP poll." Here's The Monkey Cage's John Sides, considering that possibility:

Orman may not be a good fit for Kansas. He ran as a Democrat in 2008. Based on these data from Stanford political scientist Adam Bonica, he seems to be left-of-center. It’s entirely possible that he won’t poll that well against Roberts if he becomes the focus of attacks by Roberts and others. In other words, the PPP poll may not indicate where the race stands now or will stand soon.

Now, there's no guarantee that making Orman "the focus of attacks" will work. If you want to find out more about the potential dangers of running a massively funded, "Let me tell you all about this guy who's running against me, of whom you may not have heard," I'll direct you to discuss the matter with former House Minority Leader Eric Cantor. (At the same time, I think there's a good chance that Roberts' campaign may have noticed what happened to Cantor.)

And if you are thinking of Orman as the guy who may end up helping the Democrats maintain their Senate majority ... well, there are two schools of thought. Here's Sam Wang:

To be fair, Orman is not just a Democrat in disguise -- he has promised to vote out Democrat Harry Reid as Majority Leader if he gets the chance. But Orman says that he wants to break the current gridlock in the Senate, and Senate Republicans have been gumming up the works on legislation and judicial appointments. So while Orman would be far from a shoo-in to vote for every Democratic position, he would certainly not be involved in any alliances with the Republicans.

On the other hand, there's John Sides again:

His election would matter most if the GOP won 50 seats and the Democrats won 49 -- allowing Orman to decide who would have the majority (since the Democrats could control the Senate with 50 votes, given Biden’s role as tie-breaker). But even in that scenario, it may be unlikely that Orman would caucus with Democrats. He will have to be reelected in a fairly red state, so it could make sense to caucus with Republicans.

Yes, crazily enough, despite the fact that Orman has some significant ideological differences with the current Senate Republican caucus, there's a pretty good chance that if he manages to pull off this unlikely tight-rope walk to a Senate seat, he may actually want to keep it.

So, if only for the moment, let's calm down about Kansas.

READ MORE:
There was a major shake-up in the Kansas Senate race. Or was there? [The Monkey Cage]
Legal questions complicate Dem's exit from Kansas Senate race [The Hill]
GOP's Kobach Declares Democrat Must Stay On Kansas Senate Ballot [TPM]

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