TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Republican Party on Thursday questioned the legality of the Democratic U.S. Senate nominee’s withdrawal from the race against conservative incumbent Pat Roberts, throwing a previously safe Republican seat into doubt and complicating national GOP efforts to win a majority in the chamber.
Democrat Chad Taylor, a northeast Kansas prosecutor, had been vying for support from some of the same moderate Republican and unaffiliated voters as independent candidate Greg Orman, a Kansas City-area businessman whose fundraising has been more successful than Taylor’s.
Republicans immediately labeled the Democrat’s decision a “corrupt bargain” designed to give one viable candidate a better shot at unseating Roberts, who looked vulnerable in the November general election after emerging from a difficult GOP primary in August.
Taylor’s withdrawal has national implications because the GOP were counting on the 78-year-old Roberts winning a fourth term in a predominantly Republican state to help the party’s quest for a net gain of six seats to win a Senate majority in Washington.
Republicans have a nearly 20-percentage point advantage over Democrats among Kansas registered voters and have won every U.S. Senate race in the state since 1932.
But Democrats, battling to hold onto the Senate majority in President Barack Obama’s final two years in the White House, saw an opportunity to help that effort and pushed Taylor to withdraw. Party officials in Washington said Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill spoke to Taylor in recent days about abandoning his bid. The officials spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they couldn’t publicly discuss the private maneuvering.
Taylor sent a letter to the Kansas secretary of state Wednesday saying he was withdrawing. He issued a separate statement saying he had “terminated” his campaign, without an explanation.
But state GOP Chairman Kelly Arnold issued a statement Thursday questioning whether Taylor complied with a state law allowing nominees to withdraw. The law says candidates may withdraw if they declare “they are incapable of fulfilling the duties of office if elected.”
Orman’s campaign declined comment. Spokesmen for Taylor and Roberts did not immediately return telephone messages Thursday.
The secretary of state’s office briefly removed Taylor’s name Wednesday from its online list of candidates but restored it as of Thursday. Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a conservative Republican, said he would be consulting with attorneys in his office and the attorney general’s office.
Asked whether he viewed Taylor’s withdrawal as legal, Kobach, a former law professor, told The Associated Press: “Let me defer the question because I want to have a full discussion with attorneys.”
Kobach also said Wednesday night that his initial reading of state election laws is that the Democratic Party is legally obligated to pick a new nominee.
Taylor has been the district attorney since 2009 in Shawnee County, the home of the state capital of Topeka. Orman, from Olathe, is the co-founder of a business capital and management services firm.
A Libertarian, Randall Batson, of Wichita, is also on the Nov. 4 general election ballot.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.