Kansas independent could shake up Senate

By Steve Brawner
© 2014 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Note to subscribers: This is an updated version of this column that had been released earlier today.

The race between Sen. Mark Pryor and Rep. Tom Cotton is one of the two or three most important in the country because both political parties believe it will help determine control of the Senate. But another race could be even more important – the one in Kansas, where businessman Greg Orman, a member of no party, has a real chance to win.

Orman, an independent, had polled third in a four-man race in a recent Public Policy Polling survey, but with 23 percent support, he was not far behind Sen. Pat Roberts, the unpopular incumbent Republican. Roberts was leading with only 32 percent and had an approval rating lower than President Obama’s. That same poll revealed that, were this only a two-man race between Orman and Sen. Roberts, Orman would be leading, 43-33.

The four-man race is now a three-man race. The Democrat, Chad Taylor, who was second with 25 percent, dropped out Wednesday. The other candidate is Libertarian Randy Batson.

Taylor had little chance of winning in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to the Senate since the Great Depression. In fact, the best he could have done was split the anti-incumbent vote and elect the Republican, which would have been a huge irony. Typically the argument against voting for independents is that it’s a “wasted vote” – you know, you must vote for the major party candidate you dislike the least, or you’ll otherwise help the other major party’s candidate win. In this case, the Democrat would have been the spoiler. His party’s leadership obviously encouraged him to drop out.

Orman says he simply does not fit into either party. He was a College Republican in 1988, became a fan of independent Ross Perot in 1992, leaned Republican for a while, and then flirted with running against Roberts as a Democrat in the 2008 race. He says he voted for President Obama in 2008 and then Mitt Romney in 2012. In 2010, he founded the Common Sense Coalition, whose purpose has been to elect centrist candidates. “Historically, I’ve tried the Republican Party, I’ve tried the Democratic Party, and I’ve just finally decided that if we’re going to change things in Washington, we’ve got to attack the two-party system and stop supporting it,” he told MSNBC.

He describes himself as “fiscally conservative and socially tolerant,” which might not play well in Arkansas right now but apparently has some appeal in Kansas. The nationwide tension between the GOP’s various factions is boiling over in that state. On Wednesday, more than 70 moderate former Republican legislators announced they were supporting Orman, not their own party’s candidate.

Why am I writing about a Kansas race? Because of what might happen if Orman wins. There are already two independents in the Senate who align themselves with the Democrats. Orman says he will caucus with whichever party will adopt more of a solutions-oriented approach. If control of the Senate in this close election comes down to which party he chooses to align with, he then becomes a powerful swing vote. He could make demands. And that could get interesting.

Then what? There would be three independents out of 100 in the Senate. Maybe Orman’s model could create a template that other independent candidates could follow. Maybe a rich businessman in a state like Arkansas might decide to run as an independent, too. Maybe if there were six or seven independents in the Senate, they could form a “coalition of the uncorrupted” who side with either party or neither depending on the issue, forcing both to behave.

Of course I’m heading toward wishful thinking territory here. Eventually, that coalition would be corrupted, too. Also, two-party domination is almost inevitable the way our system is designed. The most likely good scenario is a shakeup that makes the system work a little better for a while. That’s what happened after 1992, when Perot won 19 percent of the vote basing his campaign on balancing the budget, and then congressional Republicans and President Clinton sort of balanced the budget.

Maybe it starts this time in Kansas.

Here is one of Orman’s ads.

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