OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Greg Orman, the suddenly relevant independent candidate for the U.S. Senate in Kansas, is walking a tightrope in his campaign against GOP Sen. Pat Roberts, projecting himself as fresh and authentic while acknowledging that he's been both a Republican and a Democrat.
Roberts is painting the wealthy 45-year-old businessman as a "dishonest, flip-flopping liberal Democrat masquerading as an independent," says the senator's new campaign spokesman, Corry Bliss.
With less than two months before the election, Orman's campaign manager, Jim Jonas, says the narrative for the campaign is simple. "Washington is broken," Jonas told The Associated Press, "and we've got a guy who can go there and solve the big problems without a lot of finger-pointing."
The race shifted dramatically last week when Democratic candidate Chad Taylor — with a nudge from Democrats in Washington — abruptly quit. The move appeared designed to bolster Orman's campaign.
Taylor filed a petition Tuesday in the Kansas Supreme Court challenging Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach's decision to leave Taylor's name on the ballot. Court documents showed Wednesday that his legal team includes Washington attorney Marc Elias, who is part of a firm that has represented the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The committee's spokesman says Elias is not representing the DSCC in Taylor's effort.
Having a Democrat on the ballot is seen as a way of drawing votes from Orman.
The GOP needs a net gain of six seats in the November midterm elections to win control of the Senate, and Kansas is not a state Republicans were expecting to have to defend.
As of last week, Orman had spent more than $900,000 on television advertising for the general election since July. Meanwhile, Roberts had not aired any television ads since surviving a bitter Republican primary election by winning 48 percent of the Republican vote, compared to 42 percent for tea party-backed physician Milton Wolf.
Former Kansas Republican strategist Bill Lacy said the absence of a Democrat in the race actually hurts Orman. "It allows the Roberts campaign to push him leftwards and toward the Democrats," said Lacy, director of University of Kansas' Dole Institute of Politics.
Orman has contributed to Democrats and Republicans and ran briefly for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat in 2008.
With the legal challenge in Topeka, Orman spent Wednesday discussing workers compensation policy at a Kansas City-area business that tests potential benefit recipients' physical abilities.
During a 30-minute talk with a dozen employees at Bardavon Health Innovations, Orman described President Barack Obama's signature health care law as not achieving the goal of decreasing health care costs and said he would have opposed it.
"I thought at the time we were expanding a broken system," he told the AP. But he also called Republican attempts to repeal the law impractical, considering that Obama remains in office and would veto any repeal. "It sounds like a hollow political promise they can't keep."
Orman said Kansas voters can appreciate the nuance, and he dismissed Roberts' accusations that he's a liberal.
"I don't know many liberals who are talking about simplifying the tax code, who are talking about reforming entitlements, who are talking about reforming Social Security disability," he said.
Orman's campaign team has a Republican hue. Jonas produced TV spots for the Republican National Committee, the GOP's Senate campaign committee and President George H.W. Bush's 1992 campaign. Sam Edelen, Orman's chief spokesman, has worked on Republican mayoral and gubernatorial campaigns.
Roberts' adviser Chris LaCivita said earlier in the week that Orman had made a mistake during the candidates' first debate Saturday by noting several times that he agreed with Roberts. Edelen said that should be no surprise: "News flash. As an independent, he may agree with a Republican at times."