The chest-thumping and boasting that we heard from the GOP earlier in the year about the likelihood of the party taking over the Senate has quieted down dramatically in the last few days as bad news keeps spilling in for Republicans. Poll-watchers like Nate Silver, Sam Wang and others have their models, due to new data, no longer showing a GOP takeover of the Senate as a given. The news out of Kansas on Thursday will only strengthen the case that this year’s midterm election is truly up in the air, and Democrats have just as much a chance of holding onto the Senate majority as Republicans have of overtaking it.
With the Kansas Supreme Court ruling that the state’s Republican Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, cannot force Democrat Chad Taylor to remain on the Senate ballot, the door is wide open for independent candidate Chad Orman, who will likely caucus with Democrats if elected, to take on incumbent Republican Pat Roberts in a head-to-head race. While Kobach is exploring options to force Democrats to replace Taylor with another candidate ahead of the November election, it appears that his efforts may end up being fruitless. Absentee ballots were supposed to be mailed out on September 20th. However, Kobach delayed that until the 27th in the hopes of forcing Democrats to pick another candidate. Federal authorities state that Kobach has yet to request a waiver to move out the date, which is a requirement under federal election law.
Kobach is doing everything he can to get a Democrat on the ballot because he knows that if Roberts faces Orman head-to-head, Roberts is going to lose. Despite the fact that Kansas is one of the most conservative states in the Union, the far-right policies pushed by Governor Sam Brownback and Roberts have poisoned the GOP well in the state that has led many Republican voters to support moderate candidates. Brownback is in real danger of losing this November to a Democrat. Meanwhile, Orman is receiving a large amount of support from moderate Republicans, independents and Democrats in his race against Roberts.
Republican poll Rasmussen revealed on Friday that their poll has Orman up five points, 45% to 40%, in a head-to-head matchup against Roberts. With Taylor (or presumably any other Democrat) on the ballot, Roberts leads Orman by one point with Taylor receiving 9% of the vote. Rasmussen’s survey isn’t nearly as bullish on Orman as other recent polls have been. Fox News’ latest poll has Orman up by six points. Previous polls actually had Orman leading even with Taylor on the ballot and with an even larger lead in one-on-one matchups with Roberts.
Kobach will try every trick in his book to get some Democrat’s name put on the ballots. As long as Roberts can keep it within single digits against Orman, a Democrat on the ballot will likely be enough for Roberts to squeak home a victory. Kobach knows that anywhere between eight to ten percent of Democratic voters in the state will automatically check the Democrat on the ballot come Election Day, regardless of campaign ads or news. The question is: Can he force Democrats to name another candidate? Do they have to listen to him? The Kansas Supreme Couty purposely stayed out of that debate when they ruled on Thursday.
One thing that is clear — Republicans were not thinking that this was a seat they had to seriously defend. Now, the national Senate committee has to devote time, resources and money to help Roberts win this race. This shifts valuable dollars and attention away from other races where they thought they may have a chance to win. It is likely that GOP candidates that had outside chances of victory, like New Hampshite’s Scott Brown and Michigan’s Terri Lynn Land, are going to see the NRSC and GOP-funded SuperPACs move out of their states.Even if Roberts can somehow come away with this victory, the damage done may eventually seal the deal for Democrats in November.