With all due respect to Dorothy Gale, Sen. Pat Roberts has a big problem in his increasingly bitter re-election fight: he’s not in Kansas anymore.
Actually, that’s not quite true. Roberts, age 78 and a fixture in his state’s congressional delegation dating back the the opening days of the Reagan Administration, is in the Jayhawk State these days — fighting for his political life.
But the fact that he hasn’t been in Kansas all that much (a USA Today study of Senate financial records concluded that Roberts spent 97 days in the state between July 2011 and August 2013) and doesn’t have an in-state residence (more on that in a moment) is what may sink him come Election Day.
And, in the process, maybe sink the GOP’s chances of taking back the Senate. So much so that a Kansas political legend has taken upon himself to come to Roberts’ rescue. This week, Bob Dole has returned to his home state — the former Senate Majority Leader, 1996 GOP presidential nominee and son of Russell, Kansas, stumping on behalf of his former colleague.
Bob Dole, campaigning Monday in Dodge City. Can the Kansas legend save Pat Roberts?
About the residency issue: back in February, The New York Times reported that the red-brick house in Dodge City that Roberts lists as his home for voter-registration purposes isn’t a home in the traditional sense — in fact, he pays the property’s owners $300 a month to stay overnight occasionally. Why? So as not to get “Lugared”, as a Roberts aide explained — a reference to Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, whose 2010 loss was due in part to a residency controversy.
It may sound trivial, but it’s a convenient metaphor for a challenger trying to portray a longtime congressional incumbent as “too Washington”. It worked against Lugar four years ago; it’s also surfaced as an issue in Louisiana’s Senate race.
But that’s not the only problem gnawing at Roberts’ re-election chances.
For one, there’s intraparty squabbling. Between Roberts’ struggles in his primary (a lackluster 7% win against a flawed challenger) and Gov. Sam Brownbeck’s controversial first term, the state’s long-simmering feud between moderate and conservative Republicans is on full public display.
Second, Kansas Democrats might have found an innovative of electing a non-Republican in a state that’s gone exclusively with GOP senators since FDR’s second term. The trick: keep Democrats off the ballot.
A little clarification: going into September, Roberts appeared to be the beneficiary of a two-way split in the anti-incumbent vote — one Democrat and one independent dividing that bloc. But that was until the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that Democrat Chad Taylor could take his name off the ballot, thus allowing the anti-Roberts vote to coalesce behind independent Greg Orman.
About Orman: though he has an “i” after his name, for independent, an “e” for “enigma” also works. He’s donated to both Al Franken and the National Republican Congressional Committee. He says he voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012. As for campaign positions, Orman says he would have voted against Obamacare but won’t repeal it, wants to control the border and create path to legalization for illegal immigrants, and says he supports access to abortion services but opposes the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling on birth control.
But one thing we do know about Orman: the threat of his unseating Roberts scrambles GOP plans. Up until the change on the Kansas ballot, the GOP had but two threatened seats — Mitch McConnell’s in Kentucky, and the open seat in Georgia. Add Kansas to the list and it forces Republican strategists to move around their money.
And it gives us a second way to look at the Senate lineup for 2015. The balance could be decided by two best-of-three states: Louisiana-Arkansas-North Carolina; Alaska-Iowa-Kansas.
About the headline: think Kansas, Lawrence, Allen Fieldhouse and the cradle of college basketball . . .
Bonus trivia: the last Democrat to win a Jayhawk Senate race was none other than George McGill. McGill won the 1930 special election (Kansas Sen. Charles Curtis was the winning vice-presidential candidate in 1928) and he earned a full six years in 1932’s election.
But McGill didn’t wear well with the public, as is obvious in this 1938 Time letter-to-the-editor describing the Kansas senator: “Bald-domed, small chinned, doleful and dull of mien, Senator McGill has only one conspicuous mannerism—a “haha” which he inexplicably tacks on the end of his infrequent speeches.”
“Doleful”, not Dole.
And Kansas’ one-party Senate domination that’s currently stands at 76 years: it’s the longest such streak in the nation.
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