OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (AP) — Three-term GOP Sen. Pat Roberts on Wednesday insisted during a contentious debate that his stronger-than-expected independent opponent is a liberal Democrat in disguise.
But Greg Orman, who has led or is running even with Roberts in typically Republican Kansas, has donated to Democrats, including Hillary Rodham Clinton, as well as Republicans, such as former Sen. Scott Brown, federal records show. Orman has refused to say which party he would usually vote with if the unexpectedly tight race were to break his way on Election Day a month off.
Roberts warned that in all the ways that matter in Washington, "by deed, by campaign donations, (Orman) is a Democrat."
"Who will he vote for to lead the Senate? Who will he caucus with? What committees will he serve on," Roberts went on during the Johnson County Public Policy Council forum. Orman said later that he would consider voting for Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota or Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski for Senate leader.
Still Roberts railed, "This man is a liberal Democrat. He will say otherwise, but that's not the case. "
Kansas has become the surprise battleground of the midterm elections, and an unnerving one for Republicans driving to gain the six seats the party needs to grab the Senate majority. Since Democrats nudged their candidate, Chad Taylor, from the race and supported the wealthy businessman-turned independent candidate, Orman has shown strength against Roberts in recent polls.
A CNN/ORC poll released Wednesday showed the race in a dead heat: Roberts had support from 49 percent of likely voters, and Orman with 48 percent and a margin of error of about 4 percentage points.
Earlier in the week, an NBC News/Marist survey showed Orman leading with 48 percent to Roberts' 38 percent of likely voters, with a 3.9 percentage point margin of error.
Whether the question was on entitlement programs, immigration or health care, Roberts spent much of Wednesday's debate hammering Orman on trust issues. And Orman played it down the middle.
He said he contributed to the 2010 campaign of former Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown — $2,000, records show — in an effort to block the advance of the federal health care law President Barack Obama signed that year. But he said there is no point in trying to repeal it, as Roberts has proposed.
Orman also proposed maintaining the current Social Security structure for Americans 50 and older, but raising the retirement age for wealthier Americans, a Republican-backed idea in Congress.
And, he said he would have voted for the bipartisan immigration measure in the Senate this year, which would have allowed people in the country illegally to stay if they had a job and fulfilled other obligations. The measure passed the Senate, with backing from 14 Republicans.
For a man worth more than $21 million, Orman's political giving to federal candidates was hardly robust from 1997 to the present, according to Federal Election Commission data and Senate financial disclosure records. The data shows he gave less than $180,000 over the period.
However, his giving to Democrats did begin to increase in 2006 while he was considering a Democratic campaign for U.S. Senate. He gave $1,000 to Sen. Harry Reid, now majority leader. During the same cycle, he gave to Democratic Senate and presidential campaigns, including the maximum donations, $4,600, to Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Orman gave smaller amounts to other Republican and Democratic candidates, campaign committees and parties, the records show.
FEC records show Orman has written more than $46,000 in checks to himself, including a $10,000 transfer in July. Orman faces a deadline next week to disclose how much more — if any — he gave or loaned his campaign. Orman criticized Democrat and Republican Senate leadership, as well as Obama, Wednesday.
"I believe Obama and Reid are part of the problem," he said.
"But senator," he said, turning to Roberts, "you're part of the problem, too."