The Republican Senate primary in Kansas between Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and his conservative challenger, Milton Wolf, was never especially competitive. Early in his campaign to unseat the long-time Republican senator, Wolf was caught up in a controversy surrounding his decision to post the x-rays of images of dead and injured people he had acquired from his medical practice on his Facebook page. The race was not widely polled, but Wolf never trailed Roberts by fewer than 20 points.
At the polls, however, Roberts won by a much slimmer margin than the surveys had suggested. When the Associated Press called the race for the incumbent, Roberts only led Wolf by 48 to 41 percent. The GOP senator’s victory in the primary would prove to be just the start of his troubles.
With a little more than one month left to go in the campaign, Roberts is in real trouble. Democrats have engineered a switcheroo for the ages. The party’s formal nominee, Chad Taylor, dropped out of the race, creating a competitive race between Roberts and the popular Democrat-turned-independent candidate Greg Orman.
Orman has pledged to be a true independent and has said he would caucus with the party that wins a majority of seats in November’s elections. While Republican senate candidates enjoy structural advantages in the Sunflower State – Kansas voters have not sent a Democrat to the upper chamber of Congress since Franklin Delano Roosevelt graced the top of the ticket – voter dissatisfaction with Roberts may yet prove his undoing. Since the Orman/Taylor coup, polls have shown Orman consistently leading Roberts outside the margin of error.
To shore up Roberts credibility with conservative voters, and possibly save Republicans from narrowly failing to take control of the Senate in November, the GOP has parachuted former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin into the state where she bolstered Roberts’ conservative bona fides. All of her work could be undone if a rumor published in Politico proves to be true.
Milton Wolf is back in the game, and he is openly flirting with lending Orman his endorsement. But while Wolf is prepared to back a candidate who last ran for Senate in Kansas as a Democrat in 2008, he will only do so if Orman promises to pretend he is not a Democrat. According to Politico, Wolf will endorse Orman if the Senate candidate promises to caucus with Republicans before he is elected.
“The two men were scheduled to meet Friday afternoon at Orman’s house in Olathe, Kansas., just outside of Kansas City, according to two people familiar with the matter,” Politico reported. “One person said Orman’s team sought the meeting but there was no ask for an endorsement. Another source said the meeting may be canceled now that the media have caught wind of it.”
Earlier this month, National Republican Senatorial Committee Vice Chairman Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) brushed off the notion that Roberts was in any real trouble, and it is unclear if the NRSC plans to spend on Roberts behalf. The committee has, however, already committed millions to defending embattled incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and to the GOP’s nominee in Georgia, businessman David Perdue.
That may have been a smart move because, as one unnamed Kansas source told Politico, “If Orman agrees to Wolf’s terms, it means the end of Roberts.”
UPDATE: Politico did report that the deal would collapse if the press got wind of it, and it appears their source was right. “Sorry to disappoint the media, there’s no meeting with Greg Orman and I don’t have any plans to make an endorsement,” Wolf revealed on his Facebook page on Friday.