The Kansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday to grant Democrat Chad Taylor’s request to be removed from the Kansas Senate ballot, dealing a blow to Sen. Pat RobertsPat RobertsA guide to the committees: Senate Angst in GOP over Trump's trade agenda CNN's Acosta: 'The fix is in' on who gets to ask Trump questions MORE’s (R-Kan.) chances for reelection this fall as he faces a surging independent candidate.
Brusied from a bitter GOP primary, polling has shown Roberts was vulnerable in a matchup, but still competitive. But with Taylor out of the race, polling has shown Orman surging ahead of Roberts.
Concerned about Taylor's personal baggage and the potential to split the anti-Roberts vote, both state and national Democrats successfully pressured Taylor to drop out earlier this month. But Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Taylor's letter was insufficient because he didn't specify why he wasn't able to serve if elected, pursuant to state law.
Taylor sued to overturn Kobach's ruling and to be removed from the ballot though, and the justices agreed his initial letter was sufficient to do so.
"[W]e conclude the plain meaning of "pursuant to K.S.A. 25-306b(b)" contained in Taylor's letter effectively declares he is incapable of fulfilling the duties of office if elected," the Thursday evening ruling states.
But the final slate of candidates on the Kansas Senate ballot remains in limbo, as Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) said shortly after the Supreme Court released its decision that Kansas law requires Democrats to pick a replacement for Taylor on the ballot, and that he's moving the mailing date for ballots back to Sept. 27, giving Democrats eight days to name a new nominee.
National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Brad Dayspring said Democrats “now have a clear legal obligation to name a candidate to fill the vacancy on the ballot.”
“Greg Orman and his liberal friends like Barack Obama might not like it, but they have to abide by the law just like everyone else,” he said.
That could, however, violate the MOVE Act, a federal law requiring ballots be sent to overseas military voters no later than 45 days before the election. Kobach reportedly said that deadline can be moved back.
Ever since the possible depature of Taylor, national Republicans have turned their attention to the race, which could complicate their six-seat path to a Senate majority if they lose the Kansas seat, home also to National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Jerry Moran (Kan.).
With a sagging campaign still fighting off questions about whether he really lives in the state, national Republicans dispatched top strategist Chris LaCivita to right the ship and also replaced Roberts's campaign manager.
Democrats haven't officially embraced Orman yet, but he is much better-poised to run a strong general election campaign, and national Republicans charge he's their candidate.
On MSNBC Thursday morning, prior to the ruling, Democratic National Committee communications director Mo Elleithee demured when asked if they would back Orman.
"This race is still very fluid, and one thing that we're seeing is that we, along with a lot of people in Kansas, are committed to seing some sort of change there in the United States Senate," Elleithee said.
The GOP senator's campaign blasted the court's ruling as orchestrated by Democrats.
"Today, the Kansas Supreme Court deliberately, and for political purposes, disenfranchised over 65,000 voters. In a bow to Senators Claire McCaskill and Harry Reid, liberal activist Supreme Court justices have decided that if you voted in the Democrat Primary on August 5th, your vote does not matter, your voice does not matter, and you have no say in who should be on the ballot on Election Day. This is not only a travesty to Kansas voters, but it’s a travesty to the judicial system and our electoral process," Roberts campaign manager said in a statement.
Orman, who hasn't indicated who he would caucus with, stressed his bipartisan beliefs in his campaign's statement.
"No matter who's on or off the ballot, Greg Orman is running as an Independent against the broken system in Washington that has failed Kansas and failed America. Kansas voters from across the political spectrum are fed up with the mess in Washington, and that's why Republicans, Democrats and Independents are supporting Independent Greg Orman for Senate," Orman campaign manager Jim Jonas said in a statement.
This post was updated at 7:30 p.m.