Ballot, Shmallot … Roberts Is in Much Bigger Trouble

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts addresses a group Monday afternoon Aug. 11, 2014, during a nearly hourlong town hall held at the Pioneer Center in Troy, Kan. (AP Photo/St. Joseph News-Press, Todd Weddle)
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Democrats are going to fight to keep their former Kansas senate candidate, Chad Taylor, off the ballot (an odd turn of events to put it mildly). This comes after Kris Kobach, Secretary of State, announced that Taylor must stay on ballot. Kobach is intensely political and is likely the most successful and outspoken voter suppression advocate in the country today. Rick Hasen says the law is not dispositive. But life’s hard. Kobach’s the Secretary State. He gets to make the decision, or at least he gets the first pass at it. A Court will likely have the final say over whether he gets his way.

But here’s the thing: I don’t think it matters that much.

Obviously both sides can and will fight very hard to get their way. Because elections can come down to a tiny number of votes. And Taylor pulling even a single percent as a phantom candidate could make the difference. But if you look at the poll numbers that drove this decision, again, I don’t think this is what this will come down to.

Several recent polls going back to mid-July drove this decision. But two in particular did it. One from mid-August from PPP: Roberts 32%, Taylor 25%, Orman 23% and a late August one from SurveyUSA: Roberts 37%, Taylor 32%, Orman 20%. A Rasmussen poll from a week earlier didn’t given Orman as an option. And even in that case Roberts only topped Taylor by 4 points.

Now, given that Taylor is ahead of Orman you may be asking, why isn’t Orman dropping out? The answer is Kansas.

The last time Kansas elected a Democrat to the Senate was 82 years ago. And it’s happened only three times since Kansas entered the Union on the eve of the Civil War. Which, remember, is over a hundred and fifty friggin’ years ago!

This is a record that is even more amazing than it appears to be on first glance. Because this isn’t like saying a state has been liberal or conservative for ages. The GOP is actually a radically different party today than it was 60 years ago and it’s a wildly different party than it was in 1860s. Kansas is just Republican almost regardless of what the GOP happens to stand for at any given point in history.

In other words, there’s a huge amount of history running against Taylor, especially in a year where turnout models favor Republicans anyway. Another big, perhaps decisive factor: Taylor has no money. Orman has a lot of money – another reason why he’s clearly the best chance to knock off Roberts.

But look at those polls. Roberts is a 34 year DC incumbent and he’s basically begging to be thrown out of office. He’s routinely polling in the 30s! That PPP poll has him down at 32%. The problem is that the D brand means that Taylor is just not the one to do it. Orman though is running as an independent. And even though he’s a former Dem and shows signs he’d likely caucus with the Dems, that may be enough. Beneath those poll numbers there’s already a grouping of moderate Republicans backing Roberts. There’s likely also Tea Party hostility hurting him.

But again look at the polls. How many Taylor voters you figure switch to Roberts? I think we can pretty confidently say, none. If were as simple as adding Taylor’s and Orman’s numbers, Roberts would already be toast. Indeed, when PPP put Orman and Roberts head to head without Taylor, Roberts stayed right down where he was at 33% and Orman shot up to 43%, a ten point margin.

As I noted earlier, the national GOP sees clearly that they’ve got a severe problem on their hands. They sent in one of the party’s top operatives today to take over Roberts’ campaign. It’s clear that a substantial majority of the state electorate does not want to reelect Roberts. So what this is really going to come down to is whether the Republicans can change Orman into “Mr. Obamacrat” and nationalize the race over Senate control. That’s the obvious strategy. But I think it’s an approach that’s either going to work or its not. This is going to rebalance as a standard R v D race or Orman is going to move into a substantial lead. And that’s why I do not think the name on the ballot issue – while a hot controversy today and a significant factor – is going to be as big an issue as some seem to think.

Either you can Obamafy this race and suddenly make a majority candidate out of someone who only has the support of a third of the electorate or you can’t. We don’t know yet. But we’ll soon find out.

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