Kansas Senate race shake up leaves Republican incumbent vulnerable

Kansas Senator Pat Roberts raises his arms in the air as a crowd of supporters cheer for him on Tuesday Aug. 5, 2014, while watching primary votes come in at the Overland Park, Kan., Marriott Hotel. AP Photo/Topeka Capital-Journal, Chris Neal

Last Updated Sep 4, 2014 6:05 PM EDT

The Kansas Senate race has been shaken up just two months before the midterm elections, leaving Republican Sen. Pat Roberts in an unexpectedly vulnerable position.

With polling showing that the Democrat-turned-independent candidate in the race, Greg Orman, stood the best chance of beating Roberts on Election Day, Democratic nominee Chad Taylor, a district attorney, announced Wednesday he was dropping out of the race.

The trouble is, the Kansas Secretary of State says he can't get his name off the ballot.

Kris Kobach, the Secretary of State and a well-known figure in Republican circles, said that Taylor would have had to declare himself "incapable of fulfilling the duties of office if elected" in a written request to remove his name by Sept. 3.

"After conferring with the office of the Kansas Attorney General, I have concluded that the written request filed by Mr. Taylor does not meet the requirements...because Mr. Taylor did not declare that he is incapable of fulfilling the duties of U.S. Senator if elected," Kobach said in a statement Thursday. "Therefore, Mr. Taylor's name will appear on the ballot for the office of United States Senator for the November 4 general election."

Taylor's request to withdraw on Sept. 3, provided to CBS News by the Secretary of State's office, merely said, "I, Chadwick J. Taylor, Democratic nominee for the United States Senate race, do hereby withdraw my nomination for election effective immediately and request my name be withdrawn from the ballot, pursuant to KSA 25-306b(b)."

At first glance, that might seem like an insignificant detail. But one recent Democratic poll shows that Orman only appears to have a shot at beating Roberts if Taylor is not listed on the ballot.

Even though Orman used to be a Democrat, he has been very critical of both parties in Washington, and only says he'd likely support the majority party if he won. He's being coy about what would happen if he decided which party had the majority.

"If I get elected, there's a reasonable chance neither party has a majority in the U.S. Senate," he told the Washington Post. "And if that's the case, what I would do is sit down with both parties and have a real frank discussion about the agenda they want to follow."

Roberts' campaign called Taylor's move a "corrupt bargain between Greg Orman and national Democrats including Senator Harry Reid that disenfranchises Kansas Democrats."

"It makes clear what has been obvious from the start: Orman is the choice of liberal Democrats and he can no longer hide behind an independent smokescreen," said Leroy Towns, Roberts' campaign manager, in a statement. "We are confident that Kansas voters will quickly see through this charade foisted on Kansas by Orman and his Democrat allies."

Taylor said in a statement that he plans to challenge the ruling from Kobach, saying that he sought and then followed explicit instructions from Brad Bryant, Director of Elections and Legislative Matters for the Kansas Secretary of State's Office, about removing his name from the ballot.

"I specifically asked Mr. Bryant if the letter contained all the information necessary to remove my name from the ballot. Mr. Bryant said, 'Yes' affirming to me, and my campaign manager, that the letter was sufficient to withdraw my name from the ballot," Taylor said.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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