The first debate in the Kansas race for U.S. Senate was held at the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson, Kansas on Saturday. In the first face-to-face meeting, Republican incumbent Pat Roberts continued his attempts to characterize independent candidate Greg Orman as a liberal Democrat. Orman called into question Roberts' voting record, particularly issues where Roberts sided with Democrats on appropriation bills.
In the span of about 45 minutes, Roberts attempted to associate Orman as a "Harry Reid" liberal a total of 22 times, and also referred to President Obama as "his guy." This is not a significant departure from Roberts' strategy -- one of associating the independent as just a member of the "enemy" party.Major party candidates have a long history of not knowing how to deal with an independent candidate's mixed views.
Orman describes himself as "fiscally conservative" and "socially tolerant." As a fiscal conservative, Orman questioned Roberts' voting record on appropriations and built a case that Roberts is not as conservative as he would like to portray himself as being.
Other highlights of the debate included Roberts' continued residency issues, gun control, and the question of Orman's caucusing plans.
In the bitter primary against Dr. Milton Wolf, residency was among the biggest issues. Specifically, that Roberts was no longer a citizen of Kansas, but a citizen of Washington, D.C.
Orman stated that he had probably been to Roberts' hometown of Dodge City as an adult more times than Roberts, to which Roberts acknowledged only visiting Dodge City 7 times since being elected to Congress.
Both candidates are pro-gun rights, but Orman favors common-sense restrictions to gun ownership. Roberts took this opportunity to pounce on Orman as "for the Second Amendment...but..."
Orman plans to caucus with the majority, but has not revealed which way he will caucus if he determines the balance of power. This question continues to fuel Roberts' attacks, yet it is unlikely to be a significant issue.
In other news, the first surveys were released since Chad Taylor's (D) withdrawal from the race. Previously, Public Policy Polling had given Orman a ten-point lead in a true heads up, but subtle nuances in the state law were used to keep Taylor's name on the November ballot. Roberts' only hope is to win by plurality, with Taylor and Orman splitting the anti-incumbent vote.
SurveyUSA and KSN (a local television station) put Orman in the lead by 1 point, with Taylor still receiving 10 percent of the vote. Orman's strategy will need to be one of gathering Taylor's support and the anti-incumbent Republican vote. Undecided voters still make up 11 percent of total responses, making this race up for grabs.
Orman has been trending consistently higher with each poll, while Roberts has only lost ground.
Developments in Kansas have caught the major media outlets by surprise, but IVN has been following the Orman campaign since he declared his candidacy and has consistently maintained that he was a viable candidate in this election cycle. The 2014 midterms are definitely heating up in Kansas.