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How a last minute Democrat move could steal Kansas from the GOP

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And the other big political story of the last 24 hours is from Kansas. The U.S. Senate race there grew much more interesting late yesterday after Democratic candidate Chad Taylor abruptly announced that he was dropping out of the race.

    That leaves independent Greg Orman to face off against veteran Republican incumbent Pat Roberts, who just last month survived a Tea Party primary challenge. And all of it could have far-reaching consequences for which party controls the Senate.

    For more, I spoke just a short while ago to Jonathan Martin. He’s the national political correspondent for The New York Times.

    Jonathan Martin, thank you for joining us at the “NewsHour” again.

    So, why did this Democratic candidate, Chad Taylor, suddenly pull out two months before the election?

  • JONATHAN MARTIN, National Political Correspondent, The New York Times:

    Well, because, quietly, there has been pressure on him to get out because there is a well-funded independent candidate who Democrats think may actually have a shot to beat Senator Roberts this fall.

    Pat Roberts is someone who’s never really had a race, Judy. He’s been in Washington since 1980, when he first came to the House, came to the Senate in 1996. He’s never received below 60 percent. Why is it different now? Well, because he is somebody who’s been attacked from the right for the entire year. He had a tough primary against a Tea Party opponent.

    And he’s made a few gaffes on the campaign trail that are connected to the fact that he doesn’t have a home of his own in Kansas anymore. His primary home is in Alexandria, Virginia, in the Washington suburbs. And so he is somebody who was vulnerable to a primary challenge. He won his primary, Judy, in August, but only got 48 percent of the vote. There was some polling in the weeks after that that showed this third-party candidate, who, again, has been on TV because he has money, was competitive with Roberts.

    And Democrats believed that if their own nominee was to get off the ballot and they could make the independent the de facto Democratic nominee, that they would have a shot to pull off one of the biggest upsets in Senate history, and beat Pat Roberts in Kansas, a state which has not sent a Democrat to the U.S. Senate, Judy, since 1932.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    It would be — it would be historic by political standards.

    The Republicans, though, are saying that Chad Taylor, the Democrat, that there’s some corruption involved, that there’s — something that may even need to be investigated. What do we know about that?

  • JONATHAN MARTIN:

    Right.

    Well, the big news today, Judy, is that the secretary of state in Kansas, who is a Republican, Kris Kobach, who oversees election law, is actually saying that Mr. Taylor, the Democrat, can’t come off the ballot because the Kansas law indicates that you can only do so if you have shown the inability to perform the duties of office.

    And Secretary of State Kobach is saying that Mr. Taylor has done no such thing, that he would in fact be capable to serve, and so he can’t come off the ballot. So that brings the question up, is the Democrat himself actually going to be actually on the ballot?

    And keep in mind, they have to print the ballot pretty soon because they have to start issuing absentee ballots for overseas voters. So we may see some litigation here in the days ahead. And even if we don’t, you could have a Democrat still on the ballot, Judy, who is a non-candidate, who is not campaigning anymore, who is basically saying, don’t vote for me.

    It’s quite a remarkable scenario.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But the upshot is that Senator Roberts, veteran Republican lawmaker, may be vulnerable now. This independent candidate, Greg Orman, how would he vote? He says he’s independent.

  • JONATHAN MARTIN:

    Right.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Would he vote Democratic if he were elected? Is it known? What are his position on the issues?

  • JONATHAN MARTIN:

    Well, his politics seem to be mostly sort of centrist politics.

    His consultants, Judy, are Democratic consultants. He’s obviously somebody who the Democrats think could caucus with them next year if he does win. Keep in mind, there are two independents currently in the Senate — in the Senate, both of which caucus with Democrats.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Right.

  • JONATHAN MARTIN:

    And the expectation would be that he in fact would cast his first vote to make Harry Reid. He would caucus with the Democrats. That is the key vote, the first vote. Will he support vote Harry Reid for leader? And that’s what Democrats care about when it comes to Mr. Orman.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But, overall, this is a huge headache for Republicans, I hear you saying. They want very much to become the majority in the Senate, and this makes it harder.

  • JONATHAN MARTIN:

    They’re on the doorstep of retaking the Senate. They need six seats. Three of them are probably in the bag, and now they have a complication here, because in a year where they’re mostly on offense, the Republicans are, they now have to play defense in the most unlikely of states, Kansas, which again has not had a Democrat in the Senate since the Hoover era.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, it’s a story that we’re going to be watching, another — another two months to go.

    Jonathan Martin, The New York Times, we thank you.

  • JONATHAN MARTIN:

    Thank you, Judy.

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