Last Updated Oct 1, 2014 2:45 PM EDT
Businessman Greg Orman, an independent, leads Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, in a new poll released Wednesday, a development sure to spark worry among Republicans eyeing control of the Senate after Election Day.
The Suffolk University poll shows Orman leading Roberts 46 percent to 41 percent among 500 likely voters, with 11 percent undecided, five weeks before Election Day.
There was no Democrat listed in the poll, which reflects the current state of the race in Kansas. Former Democratic nominee Chad Taylor dropped out weeks ago and a Kansas court ruled Wednesday that the Democratic Party does not have to replace Taylor's name on the ballot, a decision that's considered a blow to the GOP.
Meanwhile, the high-profile Republicans now streaming into Kansas to campaign with Roberts charge that Orman is simply an unofficial Democrat.
"If he's independent I'm an astronaut," Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said. Along with McCain, Republicans like former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Sen. Bob Dole have gone to Kansas to help the 78-year-old incumbent.
Kansas is a heavily Republican state (Mitt Romney received 60 percent of the vote there in 2012) and Republicans did not anticipate having to spend much time or energy defending it. But Roberts has faced criticism over whether he's paying enough attention to the state, especially following a report that he and his wife don't own property in Kansas, but they do own a home in Virginia.
Roberts' job approval in the poll has sunk to President Obama-levels: Roberts is at 37 percent, Mr. Obama is at 36 percent.
And when voters were asked the first word or phrase that comes to mind when they hear Roberts' name, the top response at 15 percent was: "Been in office too long/Needs to retire/Term limits."