The news last night that Democrat Chad Taylor has dropped out of the Senate race in Kansas had a counterintuitive result: It made it more likely that the Democrats will retain control of the U.S. Senate in the 2014 midterm elections.
Taylor, the Shawnee County district attorney, had been trailing in head-to-head matchups with the deeply unpopular Republican incumbent Pat Robert – but the race was complicated by a third candidate, Democrat-turned Independent Greg Orman, who in at least one poll enjoyed a sizeable lead over Roberts in a head-to-head matchup. Orman has promised to caucus with the Senate’s two other Independents (Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Angus King of Maine) who in turn caucus with the Democrats.
Sam Wang, a professor at Princeton University and the founder of the Princeton Election Consortium, wrote Thursday morning that the shakeup in Kansas vastly increases the Democrats’ chance of retaining the Senate in November, raising it to 85 percent.
“It’s safe to say that thanks to Chad Taylor’s decision, the Democratic Party is now the odds-on favorite” to retain control of the Senate,” he wrote.
Other forecasters didn’t believe the race changes things quite as dramatically. First off, the polling on a Roberts v. Orman matchup has been thin, so an Orman win is not a foregone conclusion, even though things look pretty bad for Roberts. He barely survived a primary challenge from Milton Wolf, a conservative who is, surprisingly, related to President Barack Obama.
The Cook Political Report now rates the likelihood of Democrats retaining the Senate at 50 percent, while Nate Silver, the founder of the website fivethirtyeight.com, still believes they have a less than 40 percent chance of staying in control.
In the Kansas race, “I think the potential is there for [Roberts] to be in a lot of danger,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor of the Cook Political Report, who had ranked the seat as “Likely Republican” before the news of Taylor’s withdrawal broke. Now, though, she said she is reanalyzing the race. “I’m not married to that.”
Duffy, however, said that even though Orman is an Independent, his status as a former Democrat could present a problem, as Kansas is a deeply Republican state. She pointed out that the national Democratic Party has not made a public statement about the change in the race. “They have been very, very quiet about this development, and you could make the argument that their getting involved could hurt Orman.”
In terms of control of the Senate, Duffy said the news is clearly good for Democrats. “It would certainly improve their chances,” she said. “They haven’t been able to expand the field beyond Kentucky and Georgia. This would give them one more state where they can compete. And at the very least, it forces Republicans to play in a state they didn’t think they’d have to.”
Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com released his site’s Senate forecast on Wednesday before the news about Taylor’s withdrawal broke. The model originally showed Democrats with only a 35 percent chance of holding control of the Senate. In a post Wednesday night, Silver said that treating the Kansas race as a sure thing for the Democrats would only increase the odds of a Democratic hold to 38 percent, though he said he and his staff had “further thinking” to do about what the changes mean.
Update: On Thursday afternoon, fivethirtyeight.com updated its model to reflect the changes in Kansas, and the result was a meager increase in the Democrats' chance of retaining the Senate to 36.6 percent. Additional update as of 6 p.m.: Kansas's Republican Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, has declared that Taylor will have to remain on the ballot, Politico reported Thursday afternoon. The decision is based on Kobach's reading of state law, which requires a candidate who has been nominated by a party to remain on the ballot absent a statement from the candidate that he or she will be unable to execute the duties of the office if elected - something Taylor did not specifically state in a letter he sent Kobach announcing his withdrawal.
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