Kansas court rules with Democrat, shaking up race for control of U.S. Senate

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • Kansas Democrat allowed to be removed from ballot
  • With less than 50 days to go, Kansas presents a problem for GOP
  • Congress OKs funding for Syrian rebels, but critics remain
  • What Scotland says about the state of our polling
  • Good luck, Terence

What’s the matter with Kansas? The Kansas state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Democrat Chad Taylor, who dropped out of the Senate race at the beginning of September, will no longer show up on the ballot on Nov. 4. Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach had previously rejected Taylor’s request to be pulled from the ballot because Kobach said he had not given sufficient legal reason for not being able to serve in the Senate. Now, independent Greg Orman has a clean shot at incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts, who faces a tougher re-election challenge. The latest polling (with Taylor still included) shows Roberts and Orman in a dead heat. Orman released a new ad touting his independence from partisan dysfunction. Roberts’ ads have focused on connecting Orman to President Obama. Democrats have SO FAR stayed out of the fight publicly, but don’t be surprised if they play at some point. They insist that Orman is an independent and aren’t sure who he would caucus with. But make no mistake: Democrats would be thrilled if Orman were to win, and Republicans are taking no chances, treating Orman as a Democrat.

Not quite the end of the story in Kansas: Rick Hasen, a law professor at UC Irvine, who runs the popular Election Law blog and has been following the granular details of the court proceedings closely, writes, “The big unanswered question is what happens to the other statute which appears to require Democrats to replace a withdrawn candidate on the ballot. The court totally sidesteps the issue … This leaves the ball in Kobach’s court. He can sue the Democrats to try to force them to name someone. But how could he sue and have Democrats hold a convention within the day before ballots are to be printed. It will be hard for Kobach to say the printing can wait.” For his part, though Kobach did exactly that. Immediately following the court’s decision, Kobach said he would postpone mailing of absentee ballots, which were supposed to go out Saturday. He called on Democrats to name a new candidate by Sept. 26, next Friday, saying it was required by state law. The statute on vacancies in Kansas says in part, “When a vacancy occurs after a primary election in a party candidacy, such vacancy shall be filled by the party committee…” Kobach: “This says ‘shall.’ I don’t know how anyone can read ‘shall’ to mean ‘may’.” Of course, there are plenty of candidates who run unopposed because parties aren’t able to field candidates. And Democrats aren’t exactly looking to appoint anyone. The state party chair said earlier this week, per the Wichita Eagle, “Until the court tells me to do something, I’m not going to anything.”

Senate approves Obama’s plan to fight Islamic State: Senators voted 78 to 22 Thursday to approve President Obama’s request to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels as part of the administration’s strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State. As was the case with the vote in the House a day earlier, the measure split both parties. Ten members of the Democratic caucus and 12 Republicans opposed the proposal, which was part of a broader spending package to extend government funding through Dec. 11. Still, 45 members of the Democratic caucus joined with 33 Republicans to support the legislation. The president welcomed its passage in remarks at the White House Thursday evening. “I want to thank leaders in Congress for the speed and seriousness with which they approached this urgent issue,” Mr. Obama said.

Watching the politics of the vote breakdown: The vote has already become an issue in the competitive Alaska Senate race, where Democratic incumbent Mark Begich is facing a challenge from Republican Dan Sullivan. Begich voted against the measure on Thursday. Afterward he released a statement that said, “We owe it to our troops to further consider America’s options, not follow Sullivan and Obama into an open-ended commitment.” Sullivan said he would have voted in favor of the plan because the threat from Islamic State militants “is real, and must be addressed.” But he also charged that the administration had yet to lay out a clear strategy and showing “weakness overseas.” Begich has sought to separate himself from the president, who is deeply unpopular in the state, by highlighting his efforts to open up parts of the Arctic for drilling despite objections from the administration. Thursday’s vote presented another opportunity to differentiate himself from the president. It’s worth noting that among the other “no” votes were some rising stars in both parties — Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand and GOP Sens. Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. Given how the 2002 vote to authorize force in Iraq shaped the 2008 campaign, lawmakers with possible ambitions beyond the Senate will surely be conscious of how their actions might be perceived by potential primary voters down the road.

Scotland votes to stay in U.K.: Scottish voters elected to stay in the United Kingdom by a 55 to 45 percent margin. Just four of 32 local authorities voted in favor of independence. The New York Times notes: “[T]he tally seemed wider than opinion surveys had suggested but it gave pro-independence campaigners a strong platform to press for greater powers and autonomy for Scotland promised by British political leaders during the campaign.” It really is amazing that one online poll really began to change the narrative of the entire outcome of this race. After that poll, a lot more attention was paid to the race and far more alarms were sounded by economists and businesses. We are really in an era of oversaturation of political data — sometimes the data is good, sometimes it’s bad, but the worst part is it’s all mixed in. It’s just a reminder to take it all with a grain of salt.

Steak fries and nuns and burritos, oh my!: It was a big week for potential 2016 candidates who are not campaigning for president yet, but might as well be. Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton kicked off the week at the final “Harkin Steak Fry” Sunday. Clinton told the crowd “I’m here for the steak,” but teased about running for president. Vice President Joe Biden followed Clinton in Iowa for the kickoff of an event for Nuns on the Bus. Biden did not leave Iowa without making a couple of gaffes, though. The latest CNN/ORC International poll of registered Democrats in Iowa has Clinton far outpacing Biden 53 to 15 percent, which is one reason he won’t challenge her. On the Republican side, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is headed out to the West Coast this weekend to headline the California Republican Party convention in Los Angeles. On the opposite coast, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie hit multiple key political states this week, including New Hampshire and South Carolina. Like Sen. Paul, this was Christie’s third trip to New Hampshire this year. The latest CNN/ORC International poll in New Hampshire shows Rand Paul in the lead with 15 percent of the vote in a hypothetical 2016 primary. Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan and Christie, though, are not far behind.

Good luck, Terence: One final note: Today is the final Morning Line for our colleague Terence Burlij. Terence is leaving NewsHour to cover politics over at CNN. Thanks for waking up every morning with us and for starting Morning Line four years ago!

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1881, President James A. Garfield died of wounds from an assassin. Where and by whom was Garfield assassinated? Be the first to tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to Graham H. Morris ‏(@GrahamHMorris) for guessing Thursday’s trivia: Under which president was the Capitol building construction completed? The answer was: Lincoln.


  • President Obama and Vice President Biden are unveiling a public service campaign Friday to combat sexual assaults on college campuses, and it’s expected to involve celebrities — part of a bigger trend in the White House’s messaging.

  • There are 7.3 million people enrolled in private health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, down from about 8 million in April.

  • Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell asked a federal judge to acquit him of public corruption charges, claiming that he was found guilty based on “insufficient evidence.”

  • Attorney General Eric Holder announced a new federal initiative Thursday to build trust between police and communities and take a closer look at racial bias in the wake of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri. PBS NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill spoke with Tracie Keesee of the Center for Policing Equity and Ronald Hampton of the Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia Thursday about the new initiative and the advantages of community policing.

  • After nine months, the ongoing Justice Department investigation into the George Washington Bridge’s lane closures has turned up no evidence that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie knew about the closure beforehand.

  • Christie is refusing to rejoin a regional cap-and-trade program that even the state’s largest electric utility company supported. Christie withdrew from the program in 2011, under pressure from Americans for Prosperity in the state. Christie, by the way, is the main speaker at an AFP donor meeting in New York Friday.

  • The League of Conservation Voters is spending $25 million this cycle — five times more than they spent in 2010.

  • Colorado Sen. Mark Udall trails Rep. Cory Gardner 48 percent to 40 percent among likely voters in a new Quinnipiac poll.

  • Sen. Kay Hagan’s new radio ad targets African American voters and goes after North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis on education cuts.

  • Oregon Republican Monica Wehby is just the latest candidate this cycle to have a plagiarism problem. Here are the top five.

  • “Scott Brown’s truck is gaining speed,” writes the Boston Globe.

  • Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has pledged to give $250,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

  • Speaking on a panel about women’s economic security Thursday, Hillary Clinton continued to shift her attention to domestic issues ahead of the midterms and another possible presidential bid.

  • Despite an influx of immigrants in Georgia over the past several decades, many of those newcomers still can’t vote, and the state remains divided between black and white.

  • Arkansas’ ideological tilt has not changed in the past six years, but Democrats’ appeal among the state’s conservatives seems to have waned, reports Gallup.

  • The White House’s chief information officer, Steve VanRoekel, is leaving the Office of Management and Budget Friday to coordinate the administration’s response to Ebola.

  • According to a lobbyist convicted of corruption, an aide to Rep. Peter J. Visclosky, D-Ind., offered him legislative earmarks in exchange for campaign contributions for a decade.

  • Jimmy Carter’s favorite ice cream flavor is … mango?

  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.


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Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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