<img style="margin: auto;" alt="RobertsOrmon-SK" "="" data-cke-saved-src="/images/NEWS/Stephen%20Koranda/Reusable%20images/RobertsOrmon-SK.jpg" src="/images/NEWS/Stephen%20Koranda/Reusable%20images/RobertsOrmon-SK.jpg" height="275" width="520">Republican Senator Pat Roberts (L), independent candidate Greg Orman (R), after a recent debate in Overland Park. (Photo by Stephen Koranda)One of the most contentious campaigns in the country is the battle for a U.S. Senate seat in Kansas. Republican Pat Roberts is trying to hold on to his seat but is now facing the toughest campaign of his career. Roberts is in a close race with independent candidate Greg Orman, a wealthy businessman and political outsider. The Democrat in the race dropped out and won't appear on the ballot. That leaves voters with three choices: Roberts, Orman or... the Libertarian candidate Randall Batson. KPR’s Stephen Koranda has more on the race.
At a campaign office in Topeka, Senator Pat Roberts is meeting with dozens of supporters. His decades of campaigning show. He’s jovial, and polished when speaking with people and shaking hands.
At events like this, Roberts’ main message is that this isn’t just about Kansas. He has called this a “national campaign,” and he says electing him will help solidify a Republican majority in the U.S. Senate.
“With a Republican majority, we can repeal Obamacare, we can stop amnesty, open the Keystone pipeline and grow the economy,” says Roberts.
Roberts mentions his experience and accomplishments at stops like this, but those aren’t his main focus.
He’s been criticized for his decades in Washington, especially in the primary, with claims he’s been there too long.
After a tough primary fight and falling behind in some polls, Roberts has been working to shore-up his Republican base. He’s even brought in some big name Republicans to help him campaign.
“We’ve had everybody from Jeb Bush to Sarah Palin. It shows you that every segment of the Republican Party is united behind my race,” says Roberts.
“What does Pat Roberts stand for? You’ve seen it. A constitutional conservative, a fiscal conservative, a social conservative,” says Coburn.
That’s Tom Coburn, a conservative Republican senator from Oklahoma who is joining Roberts at this campaign stop. Coburn repeats the second main point Roberts is pushing: the claim that independent Greg Orman isn’t really so independent.
“He’s a liberal Democrat cloaking himself as a moderate independent, and he’s anything but that,” says Coburn.
In Roberts’ ads and speeches, he mentions President Obama and Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid repeatedly.
He says a vote for Orman is a vote for President Obama’s agenda and he points out that Orman has given money to several Democrats. But Orman is firing back.
“Some of the contributions he’s failed to talk about are my contributions to Republicans,” says Orman.
Orman says he’s been both a Republican and a Democrat, he’s donated to both parties and he’s been dissatisfied with both.
He touts his business experience as a successful entrepreneur and says that has required him to fix problems on a daily basis.
“If you want to look at how my history defines me, my history defines me as a fiscally responsible, socially tolerant businessman who really just wants to solve problems,” says Orman.
Some of Orman’s business dealings haven’t helped him in the race. The Roberts campaign points to lawsuits against him and connections to someone jailed for insider trading.
Speaking after a recent debate, Orman took aim at Pat Roberts’ argument that a Republican majority would end gridlock in the Senate.
“After 47 years in Washington, he’s telling us that he’s the solution to the gridlock in Washington. I want to know how someone who didn’t talk about working together up there, spent all his time talking about fighting, how that person actually is able to move into an environment where we solve problems,” says Orman.
Orman says he would likely caucus with whichever party has a clear majority in the U.S. Senate. If neither has a majority, he'll choose the party that is willing to take up his ideas.
Orman doesn’t have the campaign experience of Roberts, but he has a bright smile and youthful charm on the campaign trail.
He also has a lot of money, a personal fortune and impressive campaign donations for an independent candidate. That’s helped him hit the airwaves.
“As an independent, I won’t answer to either party, I’ll answer only to the people of Kansas,” says Orman.
“This has been a bizarre election,” says Rackaway.
That’s Fort Hays State University political science professor Chapman Rackaway.
He says Roberts has experience and a voting record that should appeal to many Kansans, but there’s some anti-incumbency feelings in the air that could be stirred up by touting his experience.
“And that’s exactly the tightrope that Senator Roberts walks,” says Rackaway.
Rackaway says Orman’s outsider angle helps him. He says political outsiders like Orman can make promises about what they’ll do if elected, but without a past record of political experience it’s hard to judge those promises.
“There's no record of their performance to run on, and so it ends up being very much a measure of their personality,” says Rackaway.
No matter who is elected, Rackaway says this is the first time since Ross Perot ran for president in 1992 that an independent candidate has made such a major splash in Kansas.