Greg Orman is trying to accomplish something that has never been done before. An independent candidate has never won election to the United States Senate without first winning an election as a major party nominee.
Immediately after Kansas Democrats strategically scrubbed their nominee from the ballot, Orman surged into the lead over Republican incumbent Pat Roberts. However, in recent weeks the race has been moving in Roberts’ direction as Republican voters appear to be lining up with their party’s candidate. Expect this trend to continue as Orman faces three major hurdles to making history.
1. Orman is too conservative for Democratic voters – Greg Orman voted for Mitt Romney in 2012. Orman says he will not support Harry Reid as majority leader. Orman also has positive things to say about Paul Ryan’s budget philosophy, which is anathema to Democrats.
Also consider the fact that Orman has pledged to caucus with the party holding the clear majority. Currently, Nate Silver’s most likely scenarios have Republicans winning 52 or 53 seats. Unless Orman’s first action as senator-elect is to break his pledge, he could be forced into caucusing with Republicans.
2. Orman is too liberal for Republican voters – Greg Orman voted for Obama in 2008. Orman’s political donations lean heavily towards Democrats to include Al Franken. During his very brief 2008 Senate foray Orman ran as a Democrat. Indications are that if Republicans do not have a clear majority without Orman, he will caucus with the Democrats.
While Orman tries to nuance his position on many issues, he is unapologetically pro-choice. Most red-state Democrats will try to parse the issue a la “safe, legal, and rare,” but Orman makes no such qualifications. According to his website, he states, “I know the women of Kansas are smart, and I trust them to make their own decisions about their reproductive health.”
Orman has also indicated that he believes repealing Obamacare is a waste of time (although he states he would not have voted for it) and criticizes the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision.
3. Orman will struggle to build a ground game – Political parties may be less popular than in times past, but one area where they are absolutely essential is in the ground game and get-out-the-vote effort. Other successful independent candidates like Joe Lieberman had years of infrastructure to build on even as the party was not supporting him.
Orman has no worthwhile experience as a candidate in Kansas and therefore enters the race needing to build his organization from the ground up. The AFL-CIO has endorsed Orman and may provide some ground troops, but even this seemingly good news turns into a double-edged sword as the AFL-CIO’s involvement may turn off right-leaning independents.
Mid-term elections tend to be dominated by the party bases. Americans in general – and particularly Americans not affiliated with a political party – are less motivated to vote in the mid-terms. Give them a candidate that stands for little and they will have little reason to drag themselves to the polls on Election Day.