Kansas’ top election official ruled Thursday that a Democratic candidate who tried to drop out of the race for U.S. Senate will remain on the ballot, complicating the hopes of independent candidate Greg Orman, who is trying to defeat longtime incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s decision caps a peculiar week that saw Democrat Chad Taylor abruptly withdraw from the race, in a move that seemed to give momentum to Mr. Orman in a two-man race against Mr. Roberts. Republican operatives had speculated Mr. Orman had and Mr. Taylor had struck a deal to unify opposition to Mr. Roberts.
But with Mr. Taylor remaining on the ballot, voters will now have three major candidates to choose from, easing Mr. Roberts’ path as he would only need a plurality of the vote to win.
Earlier polls had shown Mr. Roberts winning a three-person race, but one poll had shown him losing in a head-to-head match-up with Mr. Orman.
“The law is quite clear on this,” said Mr. Kobach, a Republican, referring to a requirement that candidates must declare they are incapable of fulfilling the duties of office if elected when withdrawing.
In a short letter to Mr. Kobach, Mr. Taylor wrote only that he was withdrawing his nomination for office “effective immediately” and requested that his name be taken off the ballot.
In a statement to Kansas First News, Mr. Taylor said Thursday he properly followed instructions from an official in Mr. Kobach’s office when turning in his paperwork.
The Taylor campaign did not respond to requests for comment on exactly why he decided to withdraw from the race, but Mr. Orman was actually besting him in fundraising appeared to be in a better position to take on Mr. Roberts in a head-to-head matchup.
For his part, Mr. Orman lauded Mr. Taylor as a “committed public servant.”
“He ran an honorable campaign and worked hard, and I wish him and his family well,” he said.
Mr. Roberts, facing questions over how much time he was spending in the state versus his Virginia residence, fended off Milton Wolf in an Aug. 5 primary but garnered just 48 percent of the vote.
An automated poll from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling from late August had Mr. Orman leading Mr. Roberts in a hypothetical two-way match-up, 43 percent to 33 percent. In a three-way contest, Mr. Roberts led with 32 percent of the vote, followed by Mr. Taylor at 25 percent and Mr. Orman at 23 percent. Libertarian Randall Batson drew 3 percent.
“I think Roberts was vulnerable in a three-way race,” said Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the Rothenberg Political Report. “Not having a Democratic nominee at all helps Orman.”
Mr. Gonzales predicted, though, that Democrats won’t put much effort behind the Taylor name on the ballot, meaning most voters who pay attention to the race will still likely see it as a two-man affair.
The GOP still enjoys about a 20-point edge over Democrats in party registration in the state. But after Mr. Taylor’s Wednesday announcement, the Rothenberg Report moved the race from “Republican favored” to “tossup/tilts Republican” in its rankings and Larry J. Sabato’s “Crystal Ball” moved the race from “likely Republican to “lean Republican.”
“I think Roberts is going to get outside help,” Mr. Gonzales said. “In general, can Republicans turn this into a generic Democrat versus a generic Republican race? Because that’s the kind of race Roberts can win in Kansas.”
Mr. Orman, who briefly ran for Senate in the state as a Democrat in 2008 and supported the 2008 candidacy of President Obama, then a U.S. senator, has not indicated which party he would caucus with if elected.