Two years ago retiring Maine GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe was replaced by Independent former Gov. Angus King after Democrat Cynthia Dill was all but driven out of a race that she couldn't win by her own party. The logic was that since Dill didn't have a chance, the Democratic party backed King. It paid off, he won and joined Harry Reid's caucus.
This week it looks like the same play is happening in Kansas. This time, however, the Democrat is dropping out of the race entirely. Nate Silver crunches the numbers:
Kansas, however, had become an under-the-radar opportunity for Democrats. The Republican incumbent there, Pat Roberts, barely survived his primary and has extremely low approval ratings. Several recent polls had put the race in single digits between Roberts and his Democratic opponent, Chad Taylor, with the independent candidate Greg Orman getting about 20 percent of the vote. As of Wednesday, the FiveThirtyEight forecast gave Roberts an 80 percent chance of winning. That’s not bad, but it’s not any better than McConnell, who also has about an 80 percent chance of holding on in a race that has gotten far more attention.
Late Wednesday afternoon, however, Taylor announced his withdrawal from the race, setting up a contest between Orman and Roberts. (There is also a Libertarian candidate, Randall Baston, on the ballot.)
Why would Taylor leave the race right when polls showed it tightening?
Perhaps because he and Orman share a lot in common philosophically. Based on the ideological ratings we track (more background on those here), both Taylor and Orman rate as the equivalent of moderate Democrats. Orman, in fact, ran as a Democratic candidate for the Senate in 2008, although he withdrew from the race during the primary.
But Orman had raised more money than Taylor — about $625,000 in individual contributions to Taylor’s $120,000 as of July 13 — and probably had more momentum, having recently received endorsements from a bipartisan group of legislators.
There was also a recent survey, from Public Policy Polling (PPP), which showed Orman ahead of Roberts 43-33 in a potential two-way race. The same poll had shown Taylor trailing Roberts by 4 percentage points in the event Orman dropped out.
If the PPP survey is accurate, this is a huge problem for Republicans. Suddenly, they’re behind in a race against a former Democrat who might caucus with the Democratic Party should he make it to the Senate.
Republicans meanwhile are scrambling to try to keep Roberts in the race, and they figure they can do it if they force ballots to still have Chad Taylor's name on them, confusing voters. Because that's how Republicans win, you know.
But, if Kansas is now in play, control of the Senate may hinge on which side Orman and Angus King in Maine side with as independents. The answer may not automatically be "siding with the Democrats" in either case.
Either way, we'll keep an eye on Kansas.