Monday, September 8, 2014

Could a "True" Independent Really Win a US Senate Seat?

For many in America this political season, one of the most exciting races this year (for political nerds like myself at least) is the U.S. Senate race in Kansas. Why?

In this contest, political wounded Pat Roberts (Republican) is fighting to keep his Senate seat, first from his fellow Republicans (who deemed him not NEARLY conservative enough) and now against, of all things, an Independent.

For a bit of background for the readers who may not be familiar with this race, here are some basic facts to be aware of (1):

  • Pat Roberts has occupied this Senate seat since 1996 and is attempting to win his 4th term.
  • Roberts did NOT face an easy nomination process. Not only did he have to contend with several strong primary challenges, his victory over them was with only 48.1% of the vote. 
  • Further, his opposition was not that widely dispersed as one of his challengers, Milton Wolf, managed to get 40.8% of the primary vote. 
  • The top Democratic challenger, Chad Taylor, scarcely did much better. While he had only one primary challenger to contend with (in which he won 52% of the vote), it doesn't do you much good to win your party's vote when you have very little state-wide support. 
  • As such, Chad Taylor made the shocking announcement that just a few months before the November vote, he was dropping out of the race.
  • This was not necessarily much a blessing to Roberts however, as his own state-wide support was hardly much better than the Democrat's. 
  • Enter into the equation Greg Orman: Officially a "non-affiliated candidate", who in 2008 ran in the Democratic primary to unseat Roberts but chose to withdraw before the Democratic primary. He has never held political office before and has spent his adult life working for several electrical companies in Kansas.
So, the main question many of you may be wondering is: So what if an "independent" is running for a U.S. Senate seat?

Simple answer: Because he could actually win.

Tradition holds that in modern American politics, would-be politicians who run outside of the two-party system are almost certainly doomed to failure and often only serve to be "spoilers", who "steal" votes that would normally go to one or both candidates. 

Greg Orman however, could be the real deal, or least as close as many have ever seen. 

First, while he did run as a Democrat in the 2008 Senate primary in Kansas, he has been endorsed by both Republican and Democratic forces in the state. This includes a group called 'Traditional Republicans for Common Sense", which is apparently made up of 70 former Republican elected officials in Kansas. This did so very much in opposition to Pat Roberts.

In addition, a handful of Democratic state-office holders have also endorsed Orman. He has also made a point to attack both major parties as being the causes of dysfunction in Washington D.C.

Finally, there have been several polls in Kansas that show Orman has a several chance of upsetting Roberts and winning the seat:
  • Public Policy Polling (14-17 August): Roberts- 32%, Taylor- 25%, Orman- 23%, Batson (Libertarian)- 3%, Undecided- 17% (2)
  • In the same poll, a hypothetical match-up between just Roberts and Orman found Orman getting 43% vs Roberts' 33% (2)
  • SurveyUSA (20-23 August): Roberts- 37%, Taylor- 32%, Orman- 20%, Batson- 4%, Undecided- 6% (3)
Then there is today's poll from KSN, the first poll taken since Taylor officially dropped out (4)
"If there were an election for US Senate today, and Democrat Chad Taylor's name still appeared on the ballot even though he no longer wants to run, and the other names on the ballot were Republican Pat Roberts, Independent Greg Orman, and Libertarian Randall Batson, who would you vote for?

555 Likely Voters; Margin of Sampling Error +/- 4.2%

  • Orman- 37%, Roberts- 36%, Taylor- 10%, Batson- 6%, Undecided- 11%

You'll note that Chad Taylor's name is still being used in the poll by KSN, and that's for a very good reason: Kansas state law dictates that to have your name taken off of a ballot, you have to provide an actual REASON for withdrawing from the race, not just that wish to do so. Since Chad Taylor apparently didn't provide such a reason, he will for the moment remain on the ballot come this November.

But even with the Democrat still on the ballot, Greg Orman has managed to statistically match Roberts in a state-wide vote. The race is now on to see if Orman can gain any further votes from either Taylor's continuing supporters or perhaps snatch away some of Roberts' votes. The deciding factor however, could be the Undecideds, would make all the difference come election day..

For folks like myself who decry and often mock our current two-party system, to see an independent candidate make a strong challenge for a U.S. Senate seat with a real chance at victory is something you suspected you would never see...

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