Kobach Won't Give Up in Kansas Ballot Battle

by | September 19, 2014

By Dave Helling

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach isn't giving up yet.

The state Supreme Court Thursday ordered him to strike Democrat Chad Taylor from the November ballot for U.S. Senate, ruling Taylor had complied with state law allowing a candidate to withdraw.

Just a few minutes later, Kobach -- a Republican -- said he'll tell the Kansas Democratic party to pick a replacement by noon Sept. 26.

It wasn't immediately clear how Kobach can force Democrats to pick another Senate nominee. Kobach had asked the state Supreme Court to consider such an order in Thursday's ruling, but the judges said Democrats weren't a part of the case.

Kobach said his office would review the legal options if Democrats fail to comply.

Democratic chairwoman Joan Wagnon declined to comment on Kobach's effort. But she sharply criticized him in a statement reacting to the court decision, saying the Republican "cannot be trusted."

That exchange marked the latest chapter in a complicated dispute over Taylor's abandonment of his candidacy for the Senate.

The Democratic nominee withdrew Sept. 3. But Kobach said the withdrawal language lacked the specific language required by state law, and restored him to the ballot.

Taylor sued. Thursday, the court -- in an unsigned opinion -- said Taylor's referral to the state law was sufficient to officially remove him from the ballot.

"The Secretary of State thus has no discretion to refuse to remove Chadwick J. Taylor's name from the ballot," the court said. There was no published dissent.

A spokesman for Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican, called the ruling a "travesty."

Roberts -- and other Republicans -- wanted to keep Taylor on the ballot, believing he would split votes with independent candidate Greg Orman.

"The Kansas Supreme Court deliberately, and for political purposes, disenfranchised over 65,000 voters," said Roberts spokesman Corry Bliss in a statement.

"Liberal activist Supreme Court justices have decided that if you voted in the Democrat primary on August 5th, your vote does not matter, your voice does not matter," his statement said.

Kobach, a Republican mired in his own tough re-election battle, had moved to keep Taylor's name in front of voters on grounds that the Democrat had not specified that he would be legally "incapable" of serving in the Senate.

Democrats and Republicans across the country were watching the decision closely.

Recent polls showed Taylor getting some votes in the state despite his decision to withdraw. The vote totals weren't high enough to win -- in the high single digits -- but operatives in both parties said his place on the ballot could distort the results in a close race between Roberts and Orman.

Now, the majority of Taylor votes are widely expected to fall to Orman. Roberts has trailed the independent in recent polls.

Without a Roberts re-election, Republican hopes of taking control of the U.S. Senate in the mid-term elections would drop dramatically.

In a statement, Orman campaign manager Jim Jonas said the candidate would continue to run as as independent.

Orman has not said whether he would back a Republican or a Democrat to be the next majority leader of the Senate, but his politics clearly fall left of Robert's hard right positions. In 2008, Orman briefly ran for the Senate as a Democrat, but pulled out of the race well before the primary.

Thursday's ruling may bring some order to a race that has perplexed political professionals and pundits for weeks. Independent candidacies for major races are rare.

Roberts' effort to tag Orman as a de facto Democrat are now expected to increase dramatically. No Democrat has been elected to the Senate from Kansas since the Depression.

Roberts' campaign was damaged by a difficult primary against a tea party challenger, who raised concerns about the senator's true residence and commitment to the state.

Polls suggest those criticisms may have stuck.

But Orman faces his own difficult political calculus, experts have said. He'll have to figure out how to respond to Roberts' attacks -- directed now only at him -- while maintaining a posture of an anti-Washington independent.

(c)2014 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)