Why Going Hard Right Might Not Save Kansas GOP Senator Pat Roberts

Confronted with an unexpectedly robust challenge from independent candidate Greg Orman, Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) seems to be playing to the hard right. He has tapped Sarah Palin as a stump surrogate and invoked “national socialism” as recent campaign event.

But is going uber-conservative is the right move for Roberts to save his seat? A new analysis from Gallup suggests it might not be.

Political scientists in Kansas already agree that Orman is competitive — he currently holds a 1-point advantage, according to TPM’s PollTracker average — because he is attracting at least some moderate Republican support. Before former Democratic nominee Chad Taylor dropped out of the race, Orman was endorsed by a group of moderate former GOP state lawmakers.

Now Gallup reported Friday that, among the 10 most Republican states in the Union, Kansas is the most moderate, at least in terms of people who self-identify as moderate.

“Nearly as many Kansans describe their ideology as moderate (36%) as they do conservative (38%), which may be one reason the self-described moderate Orman is performing so well in the polls,” Gallup’s analysts wrote. “The percentage of Kansas moderates is on par with the national figure, but higher than in other conservative-leaning states with key Senate elections this year, including North Carolina and Arkansas.”

About 47 percent of Kansans describe themselves as Republicans — but only 38 percent say they are conservative. Combine the moderates and liberals and 56 percent of the Kansas electorate is to the left of conservatism. Democrats have already schemed to get their voters lined up behind Orman by having Taylor drop out last month and declining to name a new candidate.

Bob Beatty, a Washburn University political science professor, laid out the electoral math to TPM last month. Orman needs to win almost all of the Democrats, a task made easier without any Democrat on the ballot, and a healthy chunk of moderate Republicans and independents to beat Roberts.

“It’s a tough task. It’s never been done,” Beatty said. “It’s doable. It’s just obviously not a slam dunk.”

But the new numbers from Gallup indicate Orman has a large pool of voters to pull from to make it happen.

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