Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Kansas Sentatorial Democrat Drops From Race

In Polling, Senate on September 4, 2014 at 11:55 am

For the second time this week, a statewide Democratic Party nominee ended his campaign in order to help a stronger Independent candidate defeat a Republican incumbent. Earlier, Alaska Democrats and Independents agreed to join forces, coalescing around an Independent candidate and former Republican, Bill Walker, with the joint goal of defeating Gov. Sean Parnell (R). Yesterday, Kansas Democratic senatorial nominee Chad Taylor ended his candidacy, thus giving competitive Independent Greg Orman a better chance of unseating Sen. Pat Roberts (R).

Public Policy Polling conducted a post-Aug. 5 primary survey (Aug. 14-17; 903 likely Kansas voters) in the Sunflower State and found Roberts leading a three-way race but attracting only 32 percent support. More significantly, the incumbent trailed Orman by ten percentage points, 33-43 percent, when the two were isolated. This, and the results from private internal polling, were key factors in Taylor making his exit decision.

Though the Democrats give up the opportunity of converting the Kansas seat for one of their own party members, they are coalescing with a political soul mate. Orman toyed with the idea of previously entering a Democratic statewide primary but chose against doing so. Therefore, should he be successful in November and particularly achieving victory with regular party activist and donor help, Orman would certainly join the Senate Democratic caucus to deny the GOP a critical seat and allow his allies to maintain their majority.

The move definitely moves the race closer to toss-up status. Orman has funding and will now attract more. Roberts is politically weak due to a series of gaffes, including not having an official residence in the state, identifying his car with personalized Senate license plates on a Virginia tag, indicating he returns to the state “every time I have an opponent” and, more importantly, recording only 48 percent in the Republican primary. Therefore, any structural change that makes unseating him more realistic must be taken very seriously.

Clearly, subjecting Roberts to a two-front political war was actually helping the incumbent because his opposition was being split between two candidates. This is usually a good thing in a multi-candidate system that eventually narrows to a run-off, such as in Louisiana, but not in a place where victory is achieved merely by obtaining a plurality. Therefore, this Kansas Democratic/Independent move is a shrewd one.

Additionally, Roberts faces two more problems. First, the Republican split between conservatives and moderates is deeper than any place in the country and moderates deserting a conservative nominee, or conservatives not being motivated to vote, are real possibilities. Second, Gov. Sam Brownback (R) falling into a highly competitive simultaneous re-election battle only deepens the chasm within the party, which indirectly damages Roberts’ standing even further.

Sen. Roberts has shown weakness during this entire election cycle, and facing one serious opponent makes his political situation more difficult. Expect the Roberts campaign, national Republican Party leaders, and their outside allies begin to identify Orman as a true Democrat, thus making the case that he will simply rubber stamp a highly unpopular President Obama’s agenda and standing, while keeping Sen. Harry Reid as Majority Leader. Then, the deep red Kansas’ electorate will have a choice only between a weak incumbent senator and a negatively-perceived Democratic President and national party agenda.

The Democrats are now forcing the GOP to spend serious resources to protect a state that should be an easy hold. The move enhances the party’s ability to protect its tenuous majority, even though the Democrats have lost their own party nominee.

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