- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sen. Pat Roberts‘ efforts to link his opponent to the president haven’t been enough to overcome anti-incumbent sentiment in Kansas, leaving him in a tight race with independent Greg Orman that could blunt the Republican Party’s election night momentum.

Deep-red Kansas had never been a reason for worry until this year, when Mr. Roberts had to survive a venomous primary, Mr. Orman entered the race and Democrats pulled their candidate — all while Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s popularity was tanking.

Mr. Roberts has clawed back with the RealClearPolitics.com average of polls showing him less than 1 percentage point behind Mr. Orman.

Voters who want to end gridlock in Washington are backing Mr. Orman, according to an NBC News/Marist poll released Sunday. Kansans who say their top priority is jobs back Mr. Roberts.

But Mr. Roberts also may be suffering from his party’s move to try to keep Democratic nominee Chad Taylor on the ballot after Mr. Taylor removed himself in early September to clear the way for Mr. Orman.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican in his own re-election battle, fought to keep Mr. Taylor on the ballot, but the state Supreme Court ruled that the Democrat complied with the rules to withdraw.

Michael Smith, an associate professor of political science at Emporia State University, said many Kansans weren’t happy with the way Mr. Kobach acted.

“Kobach is on Roberts‘ re-election committee, so to intervene legally on behalf of Roberts didn’t do any of their favorable ratings any good,” Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Roberts has tried to rally the state’s conservative voters behind him, saying a vote for Mr. Orman is a vote to back President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

Mr. Orman has not said which party he would caucus with if elected, but Mr. Roberts portrays Mr. Orman as a liberal trying to trick Kansans with his independent title. Also, the state Democratic Party’s withdrawal of its candidate in deference to Mr. Orman suggests a certain friendliness.

Kelly Arnold, chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, said once Mr. Roberts knew his final opponent, he was able to home in on a campaign message.

“I think since it’s just been down to between Sen. Roberts and Greg Orman, we have really been able to get our message out to Kansans of what Sen. Roberts stands for,” he said. “He’s the only candidate who’s been standing for anything. He’s the only candidate with a record to run on.”

Mr. Roberts has brought in big Republican names to stump for him, including Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney, but the senator still faces what Mr. Smith calls a “sour, anti-incumbent mood” in Kansas.

“It’s a weird time for incumbents in Kansas. The primary challenger in Roberts‘ race never held public office before. That person really gave Roberts a run for his money,” he said.

Mr. Roberts has been unable to put distance between himself and Mr. Orman. Even the most favorable polls put him only a few percentage points ahead. But he was down by 10 points a month ago, which suggests he has gained momentum.

Mr. Arnold said Kansans are realizing that the race has national implications — that a vote for Mr. Orman is a vote to continue gridlock under a Democrat-led Senate — and want to help secure a Republican majority.

“You can’t change out the president midterm, but you can change out the Senate and you can then get a Congress that’s willing to work together, and that is what Kansans want. They want a Congress that’s willing to stop fighting,” he said. “The way to do that now is making sure we have a Republican majority in the Senate.”

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