Ruling on Kansas Ballot a Blow to GOP

by | October 2, 2014

By Mark Z. Barabak

In a further setback to Republican incumbent Pat Roberts, a Kansas District Court declined Wednesday to force Democrats to place a candidate on the ballot in the state's too-close-to-call U.S. Senate race.

The decision appeared to cement a two-way contest between the embattled Roberts and businessman Greg Orman, who is running as an independent.

The Democratic candidate, Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor, abruptly quit the race last month in the absence of support from his party establishment.

Republicans fought Taylor's decision all the way to the state Supreme Court, which rejected an attempt by Secretary of State Kris Kobach -- a Republican who is backing Roberts -- to keep Taylor's name on the ballot even if he refused to campaign.

A registered Democrat, David Orel, filed suit after the Supreme Court ruled, seeking to force Democrats to name a replacement for Taylor. Orel did not, however, show up for a scheduled court hearing on Monday, a fact the court noted in Wednesday's decision, saying he failed "to provide evidence to sustain" his argument.

The court in Topeka also held that political parties have the discretion to name their candidates and thus legal intervention would not be appropriate.

Kobach could appeal the decision. But with less than five weeks to the election, some ballots have already been printed and mailed to members of the military and other residents living overseas.

Political strategists on both sides believe that Roberts stands a better chance of winning reelection if Orman and Taylor split the opposition vote. (A Libertarian Party candidate, Randall Batson, is also on the ballot.)

Kansas Republicans have won every U.S. Senate race since 1932, the longest such streak in the country. Still, Roberts is seen as highly vulnerable because of a rough GOP primary and a perception that he has lost touch with the state after more than 30 years in Washington.

Polls suggest the race with Orman is neck and neck, a break for Democrats who are otherwise on the defensive in most of the U.S. as they struggle to hang on to control of the Senate.

The GOP needs six seats to gain control, assuming none of their incumbents lose. Although Kentucky and Georgia also have competitive Senate races, Roberts is seen as the most vulnerable Republican senator in the country.

(c)2014 the Los Angeles Times