OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney campaigned in Kansas Monday with U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, in an effort to bolster the three-term incumbent’s message that GOP voters must re-elect him to thwart the agenda of Democratic President Barack Obama.
But independent candidate Greg Orman — who says he voted for Romney for president in 2012 after contributing to Obama’s 2008 campaign — said voters face a choice between maintaining gridlock and “actually solving problems.”
Romney appeared with Roberts and other top Kansas Republicans for a rally at an upscale suburban Kansas City-area restaurant and bowling emporium. Introducing Romney was Kansas political icon Bob Dole, a former U.S. Senate majority leader and the 1996 GOP presidential nominee.
Roberts, 78, is in a tight race with Orman, a 45-year-old businessman and co-founder of a private equity firm. Republicans need six seats to regain a Senate majority during Obama’s final two years in office, and they’ve always counted on Roberts winning in his GOP-leaning state.
Orman is running as a centrist, promising to caucus with whichever party wins a clear majority in the Senate or to play kingmaker if neither does. Roberts and his fellow Republicans portray Orman as a liberal Democrat in disguise as they try to keep disaffected GOP and unaffiliated voters in the senator’s camp.
Both Romney and Roberts spent much of their remarks criticizing Obama on domestic and foreign policy issues. Obama received only 38 percent of the vote in Kansas in winning re-election two years ago.
“It is essential that we elect Pat Roberts again to the U.S. Senate,” Romney said. “A vote for Greg Orman is a vote for Barack Obama, and America should not make that mistake three times.”
Romney’s appearance was in Johnson County, the state’s most populous county and home to 22 percent of its 1.74 million registered voters. It’s normally a GOP stronghold — both Romney and Dole carried it with 58 percent of the vote in their presidential runs — but Orman is from Olathe, and with his business profile, he expects to do well there.
Orman visited an Olathe retirement community before meeting volunteers at a phone bank in Shawnee.
Roberts has been dogged by questions about owning a Washington-area home while listing rented space in the home of two Dodge City supporters as his official residence and, in recent weeks, about missing most of the meetings of several committees on which he serves.
He dismissed the Romney visit as “part of the traditional Washington playbook.” He said voters desperately want change, but not a continuation of intense partisanship.
“They want to want to see Washington start to be responsive again,” he told reporters. ‘They realize that this campaign, that this election, is a real opportunity for the voters of Kansas to send that message to the nation.”
Bill Yancey, a 60-plus health insurance salesman from Shawnee, came to Orman’s office there to hand him a $50 check. He said he’s tired of lawmakers “who do nothing.”
“We need people that shake hands and make some deals,” he said.
But Peggy Hamtill, a 74-year-old Leawood retiree who came to the Romney event, said regaining a GOP majority is crucial to her and called Orman a “stealth candidate.”
“It’s important to me that we be able to have a voice,” she said.
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