Whether they’ll admit it or not, Democrats have put all their eggs in Greg Orman’s basket. The Kansas independent was polling so well against incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts that the Democratic nominee, Chad Taylor, was pressured to drop out of the race, and the state Democratic party has expressed no interest in filling his slot unless forced to do so by a court.
Democrats are making a bet. Orman has been publicly insistent that he hasn’t decided which party to caucus with yet, though Republicans have repeatedly pointed out that he toyed with a 2008 Senate run as a Democrat. “Both Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell have been too partisan for far too long to earn my vote for Majority Leader,” he says on his website. If no party holds a clear majority and he and the other independents (currently Sens. Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont) dictate control of the Senate, Orman says that he will “caucus with the party that is most willing to face our country’s difficult problems head on and advance our problem-solving, non-partisan agenda.”
And what exactly are Democrats getting in Orman? A review of his policy statements and known history reveals an interesting mix. His background — an investor with up to $86 million in private wealth and links to a jailed Wall Street figure — seems superficially at odds with the message Democrats have been delivering since the economic collapse. But on policy, while Orman is always careful to straddle partisan lines, he seems to come down closer to the Democratic side than the Republican on high-profile issues like health care, guns and immigration.
The Topeka Capital-Journal reviewed Orman’s relationship with former Goldman Sachs board member Rajat Gupta, who is serving a two-year prison sentence for insider trading and was fined more than $18 million in the criminal and civil cases that resulted from his misconduct.
They were both part owners of a financial firm, Exemplar Wealth Management, and federal prosecutors said that the firm had managed Gupta’s money, according to the Capital-Journal. Gupta also selected Orman as his representative on the board of a Cayman Islands-based private equity partnership, and Orman testified to the grand jury investigating Gupta.
Orman’s campaign has been adamant that Orman knew nothing about Gupta’s crimes and Orman has never been accused of any wrongdoing.
“Greg’s been clear about this,” Jim Jonas, Orman’s campaign manager, told the newspaper. “Like everyone else, he was completely shocked by the news and deeply disappointed. This was someone he’d worked with and whom he’d long considered a friend. Greg was not aware of any criminal activity by Mr. Gupta prior to this coming to light.”
That biography might sound at odds with the Democratic Party enamored with the economic populism of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). But on policy, it’s easier to see why Democrats think they could stomach a Sen. Orman — though he is certainly taking pains to avoid coming off as a down-the-line Democratic candidate.
Orman’s tight-rope walk on Obamacare is emblematic of his overall approach. The Associated Press reported earlier this month that Orman said he would have opposed the health care reform law — but he also said the Republican pledges to repeal it were impractical.
“It sounds like a hollow political promise they can’t keep,” he told the AP.
A look at Orman’s issues page on his campaign website shows that he takes a similiarly nuanced approach to contentious issues like immigration and gun control.
In discussing illegal immigration, he starts with tough talk on border security — and Republicans have always said that that should be the first priority.
“By tough, I mean we need to secure our borders,” he says. “It’s something that we’ve been working on, but we’re not there yet.”
But eventually, Orman endorses a path to citizenship — which has been a line in the sand for most Democrats on the issue.
“The 11 million undocumented individuals in America should be required to register with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by a certain date, pay a fine or perform community service as an acknowledgment that they’ve broken the law, hold down a job, pay taxes, and obey our laws,” he says, “and ultimately, at that point, if they want to get in line and apply for citizenship, they should be able to do so.”
He follows the same tack on gun control. He starts by saying that he owns two handguns and states that he has a strong belief in Second Amendment rights.
But Orman then notes that he had to go through a background check to purchase them — and expresses support for requiring the same, including for purchases at gun shows, which has been a sticking point in the gun control debate.
“While there are likely other illegal ways for criminals to get firearms, we shouldn’t make it easy for a violent offender or a mentally ill individual to get a gun,” he says. “The process for me took a few minutes and ultimately resulted in me being able to buy my handguns without delay.”
Then on other issues like abortion and campaign finance reform, Orman stakes out the more explicitly Democratic position. He says that he would vote for a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United, as Senate Democrats did this month, and that he supports a woman’s right to choose.
“I believe it’s time for our government to move past this issue and start focusing on other important issues,” he says on the latter, “such as healthcare and higher education affordability, tax code simplification, and fixing our broken immigration system.”
Despite all this apparent ideological alignment, Democrats are never going to publicly side with Orman. That would be the kiss of death after the independent label has gotten him this far.
“That would really run counter to his message,” Chapman Rackaway, a political scientist at Fort Hays State University, told TPM earlier this month. “You’d see his numbers plummet. That’s easy opposition material for Roberts.”