Pat Roberts, the staunch conservative U.S. Senator from Kansas, suddenly has a real electoral fight on his hands, according to a new poll from the organization Public Policy Polling.
The poll found that Independent candidate Greg Orman is leading Roberts by seven points, a turnaround that has surprised both Republicans and Democrats in the state.
Orman, if his public comments are any indication, is much more moderate on abortion access than his conservative opponent.
Republican incumbent Roberts has served in the Senate since 1997 and served in the House for over a decade before that. But this year, Roberts managed to just narrowly beat his Tea Party primary opponent, a feat considered impressive in a state as red as Kansas, where no Democratic presidential candidate has won since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. The Tea Party opponent was Milton Wolf, a distant relative of President Obama and a radiologist who incited controversy after making jokes about graphic X-ray images of gunshot wounds he’d posted to Facebook.
Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.
The latest news, delivered straight to your inbox.
Roberts is adamantly anti-abortion and against reproductive care access; according to the anti-choice organization Kansans for Life, he has a 100 percent anti-access voting record.
On his website, Roberts says:
I oppose abortion on demand and the federal funding of abortions. In addition, I continue to oppose the use of tax dollars to fund abortion services at home and overseas. I remain committed to supporting proposals to tighten restrictions on abortion and to support legislation that strengthens the moral fabric of our society.
Though he doesn’t have a voting record on the issue, Orman says, “I know the women of Kansas are smart, and I trust them to make their own decisions about their reproductive health.”
The GOP felt confident in a Republican victory after Roberts took the primary, particularly considering Orman was likely to take votes away from Chad Taylor, the Democratic candidate. But in early September, Taylor announced he would drop out of the race, a decision political analysts say is meant to push moderate votes towards Orman and also indicates the direction Orman would lean if he were elected.
Whether Taylor can actually remove his name from the ballot remains to be seen: the Kansas Secretary of State, a Republican, ruled that Taylor couldn’t withdraw his name, and Taylor has since asked the state supreme court to look at the case.
The new poll, first released to the Huffington Post, indicates that Orman may be able to pull off a win with or without Taylor. Orman leads Roberts 41-34, while Taylor has only 6 percent of the vote. The poll also found that if the race were only between Roberts and Orman, the latter would lead by a comfortable ten points.
In 2008, Orman, whom the Washington Post called a “political enigma,” ran as a Democratic candidate for Senate. Recently the website FiveThirtyEight called him a moderate Democrat; however, Orman has said he will caucus with whichever party holds the majority.
Despite launching his campaign fairly late in the game—he didn’t announce his candidacy until June—Orman has been successful in making his case for an Independent Senator: both Democrats and Republicans “are partially to blame” for Washington gridlock, Orman has charged.
The Kansas Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday on Taylor’s petition to withdraw his name from the ballot, and the court is expected to make a decision soon.