WICHITA, Kan. – Republican Sen. Pat Roberts will face off squarely against an independent candidate, after Democratic nominee Chad Taylor dropped out of the race unexpectedly on Wednesday.
“After much consideration and prolonged discussion with my supporters, my staff, and party leadership at every level, I have decided to end my campaign for the United States Senate,” Taylor, a district attorney in Shawnee County, told the Wichita Eagle.
The announcement came the same day that a group of 70 Republican ex-lawmakers endorsed Greg Orman, the independent challenger who lives in Olathe and is involved in a boxing equipment company based in Lenexa.
And according to polling and political observers, Orman may have a chance against Roberts, who is seeking his fourth term. According to the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling, Orman led Roberts 43-33 in a head-to-head matchup. In a poll conducted late last month, Survey USA had Roberts at 37 of the likely vote, Taylor at 32 and Orman at 20.
“He’s created a buzz for himself and that’s pretty impressive for an independent candidate,” Michael Smith, a professor of political science at Emporia State University, told the Eagle of Orman, who is married and has two dogs.
Another political scientist called the shake-up “huge.”
“Roberts has the fight of his life on his hands. And if you were going to cast a vote right now you’d be talking about Kansas sending, I believe, our first independent to Kansas,” Fort Hays State University political scientist Chapman Rakcaway told the Eagle, predicting that Taylor’s followers will now support Orman.
It is unclear whether Democrats in Kansas plan to replace Taylor on the ballot. The Kansas Democratic Party did not immediately respond to requests for comment on their future plans.
Leroy Towns, Roberts’ campaign director, slammed Taylor’s withdrawal, claiming it revealed “a corrupt bargain between Greg Orman and national Democrats including Senator Harry Reid.”
While Towns called Orman “a liberal Democrat,” in campaign ads, he has presented a populist demeanor. His most prominent commercial in the state features a game of tug-of-war between a “Red” team and a “Blue” team. The clear message being that he, the non-partisan, is the voice of calm and reason.
Roberts could also be vulnerable after coming off of a brutal primary against tea party-backed Milton Wolf, a distant cousin of President Obama.
Wolf wore Roberts down, hammering on claims that the 78-year-old did not reside in Kansas and that he was too attached to the Beltway.
Orman’s ascension also highlights a shift that will trouble many Republicans in the state. Many members of the Republican group that threw its support behind Orman are part of another group that recently announced their opposition to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, who trails his Democratic challenger in some polls.