What’s the matter with Kansas? That seems to be a question that comes up every cycle from one side or the other. But this year, it’s the GOP that has to be scratching their heads. With the exit of Chad Taylor for the Democrats, one would think that the already solidly red state could be safely ignored for the mid-term Senate contest. But then, along comes independent candidate Greg Orman to stuff a huge fly in the ointment.

Orman, an independent candidate for Senate, suddenly became the most intriguing person in politics last week, when a court allowed the Democratic candidate to withdraw from the ballot, making Orman the principal opponent of Republican Senator Pat Roberts. This development, in a race nobody expected to be competitive, has shoved into the spotlight an unknown candidate whose pitch against partisanship resonates with a conflict-weary electorate.

“Greg Orman has grabbed this race by the throat,” said Chapman Rackaway, a political scientist at Fort Hays State University, noting that Orman leads Roberts in several recent polls. “You just have the sense—I see it every time I talk to people—that politics is broken. When someone reinforces that, saying, ‘Yes, both parties are the problem,’ that really resonates with people right now.”

A combination of factors seem to have taken this seat from Safe GOP to toss-up … if not Leans Left. Four of the most recent polls have Orman up by an average of seven points. And this is for a guy so dedicated to his principles that, when asked which party he would caucus with, responded whichever one was in the majority.

Of course, it doesn’t help Pat Roberts that his own party spent so much time, energy and resources trying to oust him during the primary, and that there is probably a lot of residual resentment simmering away in the cornfields. The situation has apparently gotten dire enough that Sarah Palin had to ride to the rescue and try to bail him out.

I’m not ready to jump for The Polls Are Skewed bandwagon just yet, but this really is a puzzle. I honestly didn’t think I’d live long enough to see a Kansas Senate seat leave the GOP’s hands in my lifetime, and it may still not. Sure, a lot of conservatives in Kansas are angry with Roberts, but are they angry enough to stay home in such huge numbers that this unknown, immigration reform supporting independent could make it across the finish line? It would be a shock wave on par with Eric Cantor’s loss. (Though at least more people would see it coming.) But this story may go away if the Kansas Secretary of State still somehow forces the Democrats to put a name on the ballot. That should split the vote enough for Roberts to glide across the finish line, but it may be too late.