Democrat Chad Taylor has dropped out of the Kansas Senate race, complicating Sen. Pat Roberts’s (R-Kan.) reelection fight.
Taylor, the Shawnee County district attorney, submitted papers to withdraw himself from the ballot shortly before the 5 p.m. CT deadline.
The race is now a three-way battle between Roberts, independent Greg Orman and libertarian Randall Batson, but it's the sudden rise of Orman which has the potential to roil the race.
Taylor’s exit may create more of a headache for Roberts, who has emerged as surprisingly vulnerable in recent weeks, with multiple polls showing him holding just a single-digit lead in the race with Orman surging.
The GOP incumbent emerged from a contentious primary fight with his campaign coffers depleted and his profile in the state bruised due to a heavy focus from his primary opponent on questions of whether he actually lives in Kansas.
National Republicans haven’t yet weighed in on the race, but one report indicated the National Republican Senatorial Committee is facing pressure to send resources down to support Roberts, and there’s talk of a campaign staff shakeup for the incumbent.
Roberts campaign manager Leroy Towns told The Hill that “the team that was successful in the primary is in place,” but that the campaign has brought on new staff, including Alan Cobb, a former lobbyist for Koch Industries and a former strategist for the Koch brothers-linked Americans for Prosperity, and staff from the successful campaign of Ken Selzer, who won the GOP nod for state insurance commissioner.
Though Taylor had so far performed the best against the senator in a four-way matchup, Orman fared better in a head-to-head matchup polled by a Democratic pollster in mid-August, leading Roberts by double digits. Orman has surged since entering the race, from single-digit support to 20 percent of the vote in the most recent survey.
And though he hasn’t yet said which party he’d caucus with if he’s the deciding vote for control of the Senate, Democrats in the state see Orman as their best option to defeat Roberts — and have been working to pressure Taylor out of the race since the state Democratic Party convention two weeks ago on Aug. 24.
Democrats were wary that Taylor’s baggage concerning a discrimination suit brought against him by two former female employees, as well as his initial refusal to prosecute sexual harassment cases as DA due to budget cuts, would dog him throughout the campaign — and perhaps damage other Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.
The party is planning to launch a campaign targeting Republicans in the state for “failing on morality,” one Democratic activist said, and Taylor’s baggage could undermine that message.
The operative noted that Democrats have a rare shot at the governor’s mansion, with Gov. Sam Brownback (R) running a tight race against Democrat Paul Davis, and perhaps picking up one or two House seats, and Taylor on the ticket could’ve damaged those chances.
And Taylor was, more broadly, a weak candidate, Democrats said, noting his poor fundraising abilities — Orman raised about five times as much money as Taylor did over the course of his campaign, since entering the race in June — and inability to pick up much Democratic support in the state. Chris Reeves, a Kansas Democratic operative, said Democrats see Orman as their only option to win, and are willing to stomach him because he’s on the right side of social issues and campaign finance reform.
“What most Democrats know is that Orman would be better than Pat Roberts, and we want Roberts out. We wanted to win, this is the year to win, and Chad Taylor couldn’t be that candidate,” Reeves told The Hill.
He added: “Orman may not be with us on everything, and he may not be with us on a lot of things, but you take what you can get.”
Roberts’s best shot, some speculated, would have been if Taylor and Orman split the anti-Roberts vote and he eked out a win.
That becomes tougher in a head-to-head matchup with the independent, with the libertarian expected to draw a small sum of the vote. Roberts’s team plans to paint Orman as a Democrat and tie him to the national Democratic Party, noting his tens of thousands of dollars in contributions to Democratic candidates and the fact he previously considered running for Senate as a Democrat.
Towns, Roberts’s campaign manager, hit on that theme in responding to Taylor’s exit from the race, charging it was the result of a “corrupt bargain” between Orman and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
“Chad Taylor’s withdrawal from the U.S. Senate race reveals a corrupt bargain between Greg Orman and national Democrats including Senator Harry Reid that disenfranchises Kansas Democrats. It makes clear what has been obvious from the start: Orman is the choice of liberal Democrats and he can no longer hide behind an independent smokescreen,” Towns said in a statement.
“We are confident that Kansas voters will quickly see through this charade foisted on Kansas by Orman and his Democrat allies.”
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee did not respond to a request for comment.
But the effort to nationalize the race may be enough to mitigate any discontent with Roberts in Kansas, which is a deep-red state that hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate since the 1930s.
This post was updated at 8:35 p.m.