Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Race of the Day- Kansas U.S. Senate

76 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Incumbent
2012 Presidential Result: Red State (Midwest)

Outlook: Likely Republican

There is little reason to believe that the midterm electorate of the Sunflower State will not be composed of mostly conservative leaning voters who disapprove of Barack Obama's Presidency. Furthermore, Kansas has not elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1932. All that makes it highly unlikely that such a streak could be broken this year. Nonetheless, Democrats have at least a glimmer of hope thanks to some converging circumstances which have the incumbent Governor and Senior Senator of the state, facing some serious problems as they seek reelection.

First elected to the Senate in 1996, after a lengthy and distinguished career in the Lower Chamber, Republican Pat Roberts used to be the most popular political figure in the state. His statewide reelection campaigns became near formalities, and perhaps that is why he has spent most of the last several years living in Washington D.C., instead of back home in his native Kansas. Turning 78 years old this year, Roberts sought reelection likely anticipating little angst in the process.

The past couple of cycles though have seen some political upsets, as longtime political institutions have gone down to defeat in GOP nomination contests by younger opponents considered more in tune with the burgeoning Tea Party movement of conservative voters who exerted influence on those processes. Add to the fact that Kansas Republicans, while dominating the state, seem to be increasingly Balkanized in several directions. Moderates have been fighting with conservatives for years now, and now the Tea Party is fighting with the Old Guard establishment wing of the party, which Roberts represents.

A few candidates would step up to try to challenge the once invincible Roberts in the August Republican primary. The one that easily became his strongest competitor though was Dr. Milton Wolf, a radiologist and conservative activist, who received backing from the Tea Party and many names on the right known favorably to other conservatives. Wolf also happened to be a cousin of Barack Obama and their mothers grew up together in Kansas, although the two men may have never met and certainly would not find much to agree on if they did.

While Wolf seemed hungry (get it?) to take out Roberts, he also had to deal with some bad publicity in the race about how he once had a penchant of posting grizzly medical images of patients, as well as offering some ill-taste commentary on his Facebook page. Despite the perception that Roberts was seen as increasingly out of touch with his party at home, he was expected to still hang on easily to win re-nomination. However, Roberts' weaknesses on the right, and issues surrounding his legal residency persisted and the primary contest got closer at the end. He would defeat Wolf by only a 48-41 margin, which is far from impressive. Still though, he managed to win, and Republicans across the country will not have to wonder if Wolf could have been an unelectable candidate in November in a state where Republicans have absolutely no business losing a Senate race.

Almost overlooked was the Democrat primary in the state in which the party's favored candidate, Chad Taylor, the Shawnee County District Attorney also won by a less than impressive margin of 53-47 over attorney Patrick Wiesner who sought a Senate seat in 2010. Not many people were engaged in that contest and Taylor almost lost in an upset.

Now, Taylor has survived that scare and advanced to face Roberts, and polls are showing him as being somewhat in the game. Obviously, a lot of Wolf voters are being reluctant to this point in fully embracing the long-time incumbent Senator. A third candidate in the race also was shown as polling at an impressive number during this past week and Independent businessman Greg Orman, who ran for a Democrat for the Senate in 2008 has the potential to bring more money to the race than the Democrat nominee and could ultimately surpass him for second place.

Right now though, Taylor has to be considered the top opponent to Roberts' reelection, and while Orman  is positioning himself as a moderate, he seems to currently be receiving support from conservatives unhappy with Roberts. I do not exactly see how that makes sense, but it is also true that the political calculus of such a race means that those voters are not going for the Democrat. There is some talk that either Orman or Taylor could decide to drop out in favor of the other going forwards as the sole challenger to Roberts, but that seems quite unlikely, especially with a duly nominated candidate of a major party involved. It may not look this way now, but if one of them did drop out, I think it would eventually benefit Roberts' margin in the long run.

This is a lot of talk for a race that really should not be a contest. The wounds of the primary may still be healing for some and eventually, I believe that Orman's Independent candidacy will lose support (which is not to say he may not possibly finish second), and some more conservatives will decide that they really have no choice but to ultimately vote for Roberts, as the GOP candidate. The other Kansas Senator, Jerry Moran, is chairing the party's Senate Committee efforts this year and can be counted on using all resources if necessary to prevent what would be the biggest political upset of the year.

Right now, polls are showing a single digit race, and the incumbent will almost certainly be held under 60 percent this year, but it is very hard to see a scenario where he still does not win, and do so with votes to spare. The Republican Governor of Kansas, Roberts' former House and Senate colleague is in even more trouble, and it is quite possible that Kansas will elect a somewhat nondescript Democrat to replace him? A Senate race though is a far different story. Republicans are not about to see a winning streak that was last snapped back in the days of Herbert Hoover come to an end. Not this year at least.

Roberts campaign link:

Senate races predicted thus far: 4 D (3 Safe, 1 Tossup), 7 R (2 Safe, 1 Likely, 2 Leans, 2 Tossup)
Overall predicted thus far: 38 D, 37 R (net Republican gain of 3)


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