John Edwards announcing his withdrawal from the presidential race on Jan. 30, 2008
This utterly unpredictable race got even more unpredictable. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) ruled Thursday afternoon
that Chad Taylor's name had to remain on the ballot as the Democratic nominee in the Senate race. Taylor has since said
that he had been told that his letter would be enough to get him off the ballot, so the situation may still evolve. But assuming that Taylor's name remains, what are we to expect?
Independent candidate Greg Orman led by 10 percent in the one head-to-head poll taken between him and Republican Senator Pat Roberts, but only now will he face the spotlight in a deeply red state. Would Taylor's presence on the ballot hurt Orman by siphoning Democratic votes away from Roberts' true challenger and preventing the consolidation of the anti-Roberts vote?
This post will look at the recent history of comparable situations. My conclusion is that we shouldn't expect Taylor to get a significant percentage of the vote:
- Most voters desert candidates who have dropped out but whose name remains on the ballot.
- Most voters also abandon major-party candidates who have been clearly supplanted by a third-party or independent candidate, even when the major-party candidate continues campaigning. (While Taylor will cease his campaign, these cases are useful in providing an upper limit of what Taylor may get.)
But these examples also signal that we should still expect Taylor to receive a small share of the vote, which could impact the outcome of the election if it is close. Follow below the fold for specifics.
- Connecticut Senate race, 2006
This example has been the most cited for now: Republican nominee Alan Schlesinger got nearly 10 percent of the vote in the race between Democrat Ned Lamont and then-Independent Joe Lieberman. That's a large percentage. If Taylor gets the same amount, it may be hard for Orman to beat Roberts.
But the comparison is highly problematic: Schlesinger never dropped out of the race! He remained an active candidate to the end. In those circumstances, it is remarkable that all but 9 percent of the electorate abandoned an actively running major-party candidate, especially when this was the product of Republican voters rushing to help the man who had been the Democratic Party's vice-presidential nominee just six years earlier. To me, this is evidence that voters don't like casting a ballot for major-party candidates who seem irrelevant, not the inverse.
This special election makes for a better parallel: After a chaotic campaign during which the national right rallied behind Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman over Republican Party nominee Dierdre Scozzafava, the latter withdrew from the race just two days before the election. Her name remained on the ballot, and she received 5.6 percent. Democratic nominee Bill Owens won by 2.3 percent.
That still sounds like a lot, but who were Scozzafava voters supposed to vote for? Scozzafava was pushed out by Hoffman's surge after a nasty campaign that divided Republicans nationally; it's no wonder many did not vote for Hoffman, especially given the 48-hour turnaround. There is no such hostility between Taylor and Orman, whether or not the Democrat chooses to endorse the independent. Furthermore, the timeframe in Kansas will be anything but this compressed: The scenario under which low-information voters don't realize that the person listed as their party's candidate is no longer running is less likely to apply.
This may be the most worrisome precedent for Orman: There, former U.S. Senator Adlai Stevenson III declined the Democratic nomination for governor and decided to run on the Solidarity Party ticket after Mark Fairchild, a Lyndon Larouche supporter, won the lieutenant governor nomination. (In Illinois, nominees for governor and lieutenant governor run on the same ticket.) As a result, there was a Democratic line on the ballot with no candidate listed. That "no candidate" line nonetheless received 6.64 percent of the vote.
One mitigating factor: Illinois had straight-ticket voting back in 1986, while Kansas does not today. Also, and while Fairchild was not able to remain on the Democratic ticket once Stevenson left it, it's still interesting that Fairchild got more votes in the primary for lieutenant governor than the "no candidate" Democratic line got in November. That is to say: This was a more contentious situation than the relation between Orman and Taylor will be in Kansas.
There are few recent examples of situations in which a candidate drops out but cannot remove his or her name from the ballot. Here are a few cases in which comparisons can be made:
- Democratic primaries, 2008: John Edwards withdrew from the presidential race on January 30. His name was on the ballot on Super Tuesday ballots a week later, as well as primaries held much later on. He received around 1 percent in New York, New Jersey and Alabama; less than 2 percent in Georgia, Arkansas, Illinois; 4 percent in Tennessee; and a surprising 10percent in Oklahoma. A month later, he received around 1 percent in Mississippi, Texas, and Ohio. (Importantly, some Super Tuesday voters had already cast absentee ballots by the time Edwards withdrew; that may explain the higher California total, since the Golden State is more reliant on mail voting than Eastern counterparts.) Primaries are a different beast than the general election, but it's relevant that his support collapsed to 1 to 2 percent in most states within days of his withdrawal.
- FL-16, 2006: This is a very different situation, but it is useful in signaling that voters are typically aware of a race's configuration even when the ballot does not reflect it. In the fall of 2006, Republicans mounted the "Punch Foley for Negron" campaign in Florida's 16th district after a scandal broke about Rep. Mark Foley's e-mails to congressional pages. Republicans were allowed to replace Foley with state Rep. Joe Negron, but not to switch their names on the ballot. In other words, Foley's name would still appear, but a Foley victory would send Negron to Congress. There was much skepticism about this strategy: Would voters be sufficiently informed of this dynamic to cast their vote for a man whose scandal made headlines for weeks? On Election Day, the "Mark Foley" ballot line came within 1.8 percent of victory.
Here are some other recent examples of situations in which an actively running major-party candidate was supplanted as his or her side's de facto candidate (the Schlesinger situation):
- Maine, 2012: Cynthia Dill got 13.15 percent as the Democratic nominee in the Senate race.
- Colorado, 2010: Dan Maes got 11.2 percent as the Republican nominee in the fovernor's race. There's an added twist in this one: Even once it became clear that only Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo would finish far ahead of Maes, and therefore that only Tancredo had a shot at beating Democratic nominee Hickenlooper, Republicans still had a major incentive to push Maes above the 10 percent line: Had he finished under it, the GOP would have lost its major party-status in Colorado.
- There are many examples of races featuring prominent independent or third-party candidates in which both major party candidates get a substantial share of the vote (just to name a few examples: Maine's 2010 governor's race, or New York's famous 1970 Senate race, in which the Republican incumbent ended with 24 percent). But those are situations in which no candidate had dropped out and neither of the major party candidates had grown clearly irrelevant, like Maes in 2010 or Schlesinger in 2006. Take Maine in 2010: While Democrat Libby Mitchell finished far behind independent Eliot Cutler, polls throughout October showed the two alternatives to Republican nominee Paul LePage to be neck-and-neck.
In short: If Taylor remains on the ballot, life becomes more complicated for Orman since the 2 to 6 percent these examples suggest he could get could very well matter. But the election remains a duel between Orman and Roberts.
In fact, the more Republicans attack Orman as a Democrat (as they are likely to do), the less likely it will be that some voters will choose to cast their ballot for a candidate who has withdrawn months earlier. And that's not even taking into account the possibility that Taylor could endorse Orman or campaign for him; that could be a double-edged sword for Orman, who wants to maintain his independent profile, but it's a weapon he may have at his disposal if polls find the Taylor vote is more important than expected.
Finally, it is worth asking what share of voters who will still cast a ballot for Taylor would would have voted for Orman had Taylor's name not been on the ballot. If they are low-information voters who don't know that Taylor has dropped out, would they have known Orman is viable alternative to Roberts—and one who is running to Roberts' left? If they are liberal and disgruntled at the idea of not voting for a Democratic nominee, would they have voted for Orman anyway?