OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Greg Orman gave voters a glimpse into his political mindset Wednesday during a lunchtime debate with Sen. Pat RobertsCharles (Pat) Patrick RobertsMcConnell gets GOP wake-up call Bob Dole, Pat Roberts endorse Kansas AG Derek Schmidt for governor Ex-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm MORE (R-Kan.), who accused his opponent of being a closet Democrat.
Orman has been a sphinx in the Kansas Senate race, steadfastly refusing to answer perhaps the most pressing question of his candidacy: will he caucus with Democrats or Republicans if elected to the Senate?
Orman provided a few clues Wednesday when he signaled opposition to talk of repealing ObamaCare, and defended comprehensive immigration reform along the lines of Senate legislation passed last year.
He said Republicans calling for repeal of President Obama’s signature healthcare reform law are blinded by partisanship to the underlying problem of unaffordable healthcare.
“Any senator who stands up here and tells you he’s going to repeal the Affordable Care Act is ignoring the reality that President Obama will simply veto the bill,” he said.
He said policymakers should focus instead of addressing the “healthcare affordability crisis.”
“We pay for quantity and not for quality and if we realign the incentives in healthcare I think we can get affordable healthcare that is also very high-quality, and that’s what I think we need to be focused on,” he said.
But he also revealed sympathy with Republicans on fiscal issues by saying he could support raising the Social Security retirement age, anathema among the Democratic Party’s base.
Orman has made few public appearances and has generally avoided questions.
When asked last month during a parade in this suburb of Kansas City whether he would vote to repeal ObamaCare, Orman broke off the conversation and walked away, saying, “You know, it’s an interesting question.”
He made a point Wednesday, however, of lingering after the debate to answer reporters’ questions.
While onstage, he declared that “Washington is broken” and pledged to take a pragmatic approach to governing in Washington.
"Is a government that behaves like two children fighting in the backseat of a car what we want to hand off to future generations?" he asked.
Roberts, meanwhile, went to great length to paint his opponent, a wealthy 45-year-old businessman, as someone who would be a loyal foot soldier to Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) in the 114th Congress.
“A vote for Greg Orman is a vote to hand over the future of Kansas and the country to Harry Reid and Barack Obama," Roberts said.
He noted that Orman gave political contributions to Obama, Reid and other Democrats.
Orman retorted that he also gave money to former Sen. Scott Brown (R), who deprived Senate Democrats of a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority when he captured the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in Massachusetts.
“I actually gave money to Scott Brown in Massachusetts in 2010 precisely because he was the vote that was supposed to prevent the Affordable Care Act from becoming law,” he said.
Roberts blasted Orman for dodging reporters and refusing to take a firm stance on issues such as the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Orman has said he needs more information about the controversial project before calling for its approval.
"Trying to get Greg Orman's position on an issue, any issue, is like trying to nail Jello to the wall. Kansas needs someone in the Senate with conviction and backbone,” he said.
Roberts touted his endorsements from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business because of his clear support for tax reform and Keystone.
“He has to come clear with Kansas voters on [the] First and Second Amendment, Keystone pipeline, amnesty, ObamaCare,” he said.
Orman said he and Roberts have shared the same views on gun control and immigration reform, but accused his opponent of shifting to the far right and changing his positions.
“I have said from the beginning that I am not a supporter of amnesty. I don’t believe that people who are here on an undocumented basis should have any preferences as it relates to becoming an American citizen,” he said.
But Orman argued the current immigration system is a failure that needs to be overhauled.
In an appeal to Republican-leaning voters, he said the federal government needs to keep a high number of border patrol agents in service and use advanced technology to cut down on illegal border crossings.
Echoing the views of the business community and many Democrats, he asserted it’s not realistic to attempt to deport an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants now living in the United States.
Orman’s campaign issued a press release noting that many Republicans share his view that comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, is due.
The document quoted former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) rejecting the characterization the Senate bill as amnesty.
Roberts and Orman are scheduled to debate one more time in Wichita on Oct. 15.