Kansas Court Decision: GOP Senate Race No Longer a Slam Dunk
Policy + Politics

Kansas Court Decision: GOP Senate Race No Longer a Slam Dunk

The battle for control of the Senate was scrambled once again late this week when the Kansas Supreme Court allowed the Democratic candidate to withdraw, clearing the way for independent, Greg Orman.

The decision increased the odds that veteran Republican Sen. Pat Roberts will go down to defeat in the Nov. 4 election making it more difficult for the GOP to garner the six-seat pickup they will need to reclaim control of the Senate.

Republicans, for sure, still hold the upper hand in the battle for control of the Senate with analysts and pollsters forecasting a GOP pickup of between five and eight seats. With three of those seats already in the bag for the Republicans in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia, the GOP would really have to blow it in a handful of races to fall short again.

Related: Sen. Roberts Survives Tea Party Challenge

However, GOP senate victory assumes that Republican incumbents hang onto seats in bright red states like Kansas. Yet Roberts, 78, a folksy three-term senator who earlier this year was caught by The New York Times fudging on his state residency requirement, may be headed for an embarrassing upset.

Roberts survived a GOP primary challenge from Tea Party member Milton Wolf in August, 48 percent to 41 percent, but his general election prospects took a major hit on Thursday. But with Taylor out of the race, independent Greg Orman would pick up additional Democratic support he will need to topple Roberts in the general election.

If Orman, a businessman, defeats Roberts, there is a better than 50-50 chance he would caucus with the Democrats if that meant enabling them to retain control of the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) would be certain to shower Orman with prized committee assignments and other perks if he agreed to come onboard.

Related: Why the GOP Can’t Count on a Midterm Wave Election

Orman has shrewdly declined to say which party he would caucus with should he win. But with Taylor out of the race, he would be beholden to the Democrats for winning the hotly contested Senate seat.

The state high court ruling was a blessing for the Democrats because it overruled a decision by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to keep Taylor’s name on the ballot. Kobach insists that politics has nothing to do with it, but he has worked hard to keep Taylor on the ballot – a move that would effectively split the anti-Roberts vote in the general election.

Even after the Supreme Court ruled that Taylor’s name should be struck from the ballot, Kobach said he “isn’t giving up yet,” according to the Kansas City Star, and he has ordered the Kansas Democratic Party to choose a replacement for Taylor by noon Sept. 26.

Related: Money Behind the Midterms—How the Game Has Changed

The importance of the court ruling was clearly illustrated by a Fox News poll released this week. The survey found Roberts with a slight lead in a three-way contest, with Roberts garnering 40 percent of the vote, Orman 38 percent and Taylor 11 percent. With Taylor out of the race, Orman leads Roberts by six points – 48 percent to 42 percent.

For now, the Kansas race “leans Republican,” according to the latest Crystal Ball analysis of University of Virginia political scientist Larry J. Sabato, but that could change.

Sabato says that another surprise in the Senate campaign – with just six weeks remaining – is the comeback of Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC), who has shown “remarkable resilience” in her race against Republican Thom Tillis, the speaker of the state House of Representatives. Sabato wrote this week that Tillis has “particularly poor numbers for a challenger” and that “his unfavorables are usually higher than his favorables and not just by a few points.”

“Hagan’s numbers aren’t great, either, though they appear to be improving,” according to Sabato, who moved Hagan’s race from a “tossup” to “leans Democratic.”

Several other Democratic incumbents are facing a much tougher uphill climb to retain their seats: Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, while the race for the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa is considered a tossup. And Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) is trying to fend off an aggressive challenge from former Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown in a state where President Obama’s low approval rating is hurting Shaheen, according to the Boston Globe.

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