Updated, 8:36 a.m. | Sen. Pat Roberts' Democratic challenger abruptly dropped out of the race in Kansas Wednesday night, opening up a potentially competitive contest between the Republican and independent candidate Greg Orman.
Chad Taylor, a county district attorney, asked for the Secretary of State to remove his name from the ballot and described his campaign as "terminated,” according to The Wichita Eagle . He told the Eagle he had deliberated and had talked with Democratic Party leadership at all levels.
The move dramatically shifts the dynamic of the Senate race. Kansas is a Republican leaning state, but polls have shown extremely tepid support for Roberts. The senator defeated a weak and underfunded tea party primary challenger last month by a mere seven percent , and Roberts got only 48 percent of the vote. Roberts also suffered from reports that he did not own a residence in Kansas, but rather lived in Washington, D.C., where he has worked for the past several decades as a congressional staffer, then a congressman, and now a senator.
Roberts still looked relatively safe heading into a general election — though all the public polling has been automated. In a Public Policy Polling survey last month, Roberts led Taylor by seven and Orman by 9. Orman and Taylor appeared to take votes from each other.
With Taylor out of the race, the calculus changes.
Orman is a strong candidate, a businessman with money to potentially help bankroll his own campaign. And it is a good political climate for him in Kansas: The state's Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is under fire from many in his own party and is locked in a pitched battle with Democrat Paul Davis, who has the backing of a number of Republicans. That same coalition of Republicans recently endorsed Orman.
The senator attacked Orman Wednesday over those endorsements, saying many of the people listed as part of the coalition were in fact Roberts supporters.
“This is just more deception from a candidate who wants voters to believe he is a nonpartisan independent when, in fact, he is a liberal Democrat by experience and by philosophy,” Roberts campaign manager Leroy Towns said in a statement.
But Roberts could still be in danger. In a head-to-head matchup in the PPP poll, Orman led Roberts by 10 points, 43 percent to 33 percent. Libertarian candidate Randall Batson was at just 3 percent in the PPP poll.
“This is certainly an unexpected turn of events," Orman said in a statement Wednesday evening. "Chad Taylor is a committed public servant. He ran an honorable campaign and worked hard, and I wish him and his family well."
The race was rated Favored Republican by The Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call but Thursday morning brought a ratings change. Roberts' re-election bid is now rated Toss-Up/Tilt Republican.
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