Kansas election law looms large in US Senate race

AP News
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Posted: Sep 16, 2014 10:03 AM
Kansas election law looms large in US Senate race

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Kansas Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday over whether the Democrat who wants to drop out of the U.S. Senate race must stay on the ballot, a dispute that could have a big effect on Republicans recapturing a Senate majority.

Democrat Chad Taylor, a county prosecutor from Topeka, threw the race into chaos earlier this month when he announced he wanted to be taken off the ballot, without giving an explanation. Taylor's exit seemed to set up a clear two-person race between the three-term incumbent, Republican Pat Roberts, and wealthy independent Greg Orman, who many believe has a chance to unseat Roberts head to head.

The unusual move by Taylor, apparently at the urging of fellow Democrats who worried that a three-person race would split the anti-Roberts vote, turned the race into one of the hottest campaigns of the season.

After Taylor's announcement, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a conservative Republican who backs Roberts, declared that Taylor didn't comply with a state election law limiting when nominees can withdraw. Taylor petitioned the Supreme Court to remove his name from the ballot.

Kansas law says party nominees can have their names removed from the ballot if they declare that they will be incapable of fulfilling the duties of the offices they seek. Taylor's letter cited the law by statute number but didn't specifically say he wouldn't be capable of serving.

Kobach argued that Taylor must explain himself, even if he simply says he can't serve as a senator, without giving more details. But Taylor's legal team contends that citing the statute is enough.

And Kobach maintains that even if the court requires him to remove Taylor's name from the ballot, another state law will require the Democrats to pick a new nominee within days.

The court is expected to act quickly. County officials must print ballots Friday to meet Saturday's deadline under state and federal law to begin sending them to military personnel overseas.

Republicans need a net gain of six seats to recapture a Senate majority. The GOP has won every Senate race in Kansas since 1932 and enjoys a nearly 20 percentage-point advantage among the state's 1.74 million registered voters.

But the 78-year-old Roberts looked vulnerable after emerging from a tough primary race against a tea party challenger, and he's been dogged by questions about owning a Washington-area home while listing rented space in the Dodge City home of two supporters as his official residence. He recently retooled his campaign and launched an effort to paint Orman as a liberal Democrat.

Orman, a 45-year-old Olathe businessman who co-founded a private equity firm, is running as a centrist. He has said he'll caucus with whichever party has the majority — and be a potential kingmaker if neither does.