Independent Greg Orman
Wow! For the second time in one week, a Democrat seeking statewide office in a red state has dropped out in favor of an independent candidate who, as the polls tell it, has a better shot at beating the Republican incumbent. First it happened in Alaska; this time, it's Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor, the Democratic nominee for Senate in Kansas who'd raised absolutely bupkes in his quest to unseat Republican Sen. Pat Roberts.

And this is very good news for Team Blue, because wealthy independent Greg Orman had been running a much stronger campaign—and what's more, PPP recently found him beating Roberts by a 43-33 margin in what was at the time a hypothetical two-way race. In a three-way, Roberts clung to a slim 32-25 lead over Taylor, with Orman pulling 23 percent, meaning the anti-incumbent vote was badly split. And Taylor actually trailed Roberts 43-39, so Orman is definitely the preferred horse.

Now, we're talking about Kansas, so you can't expect any great progressive saviors here. But Orman, before his independent bid, was a Democrat (he briefly ran for Senate back in 2008 as well), and he's well to Roberts' left. But who would he caucus with? In a canny move, Orman's promised to side with whichever party wins the majority in the Senate this fall, so he can really only make life difficult for Republicans. (That is to say, if Democrats lose their majority, who really cares what a Sen. Orman might do?)

Of course, PPP's polling reflected reality a few weeks ago, before Orman became the de facto Democratic candidate. As such, Republicans will try to tie paint him as a typical libruhl and tie him to Obama at every opportunity, which will likely drag him down. But Roberts is a very damaged candidate whose image took a major hit during the GOP primary earlier this year, when he revealed that he didn't even live in Kansas. (All he's got is a time-share in a La-Z-Boy.) Indeed, according to PPP, Roberts' job approval rating has shrunk to a miserable 27 positive to 44 negative.

But could Roberts really lose in dark red Kansas? Yes, he could. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, Roberts' ticket-mate, is in dire shape for an entirely different set of reasons, and he's looking very vulnerable. A federal race is harder for a Republican to botch here, but Brownback and Roberts are very liable to drag each other down, as both are deeply unpopular. And Orman is an aggressive, motivated candidate who hasn't self-funded yet but certainly could. For all these reasons, Daily Kos Elections is changing our rating on this race from Likely R to Lean R.

No matter how things wind up, though, this is a big blow to national Republicans because all of a sudden, one seat that absolutely should not even remotely be in play has suddenly become a lot more competitive. Orman can pull his own weight, but if the NRSC has to come in and bail out Roberts, that would not only represent a terrible embarrassment but a serious diversion of resources from other seats the GOP is hoping to pick up. Orman may not have a "D" after his name anymore, but Democrats just got very lucky indeed.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Wed Sep 03, 2014 at 03:15 PM PDT.

Also republished by Kansas & Missouri Kossacks and Daily Kos.

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