TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Beloved Kansas State University football coach Bill Snyder on Thursday endorsed Sen. Pat Roberts for re-election and is appearing in a television ad for the three-term Republican incumbent, potentially giving the GOP a boost in a race with national implications.
The spot came with a final crush of advertising on both sides after Kansas unexpectedly became a battleground state in the Republicans' quest to recapture a Senate majority. Roberts is locked in a tough contest with independent candidate Greg Orman, a 45-year-old Olathe businessman and co-founder of a private equity firm.
Snyder is respected throughout the state and college football. His 6-1 Wildcats are the only Big 12 team without a conference loss and are ranked ninth for a national football playoff spot.
Republicans need a net gain of six seats, and they've always counted on the 78-year-old Roberts winning in a state in which the GOP has won every Senate race since 1932. But Roberts emerged vulnerable from an August primary against a tea party challenger who portrayed him as out of touch, and Orman has painted the incumbent as part of Washington's gridlock.
In the new 30-second spot, Snyder describes Roberts as "a dear friend and a great friend of the state of Kansas." Roberts' campaign plans to spend "six figures" on air time, manager Corry Bliss said.
"I think his track record speaks for itself," Snyder says in the ad. "He is as good as it gets for the state of Kansas."
Voter registration records show Snyder is registered as a Republican in Riley County, home to the university. He's remained largely aloof from politics. He declined to run for lieutenant governor with then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, when she sought re-election in 2006, but led a mentoring initiative she established that year.
To help Roberts, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ordered $150,000 in television ads and the National Rifle Association added almost $40,000. The political arm for Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul ordered $100,000 in TV ads for Roberts earlier this week and the Freedom Partners Action Fund, backed by billionaire businessmen-brothers Charles and David Koch, ordered $580,000 in ads.
Since Oct. 22, the pro-Orman Kansans Support Problem Solvers PAC has spent almost $740,000. The political action committee's financial disclosure form, filed Oct. 15, listed just two donors: Houston, Texas, investor John Arnold, who gave $500,000; and Charlotte, North Carolina, investor David Cohen, who gave $100,000. Cohen earlier gave $100,000.
Orman's campaign did not respond to the Roberts ad with Snyder. It's been touting the backing of numerous newspapers while largely eschewing big-name political endorsements. He's said repeatedly that voters are tired of partisan bickering and want problem-solvers in Washington. He is running as a centrist.
Snyder's appeal is seen as nearly universal in Kansas. The 75-year-old took Kansas State from being a perennial loser and built it into a national football power as coach from 1989 to 2005, then returned to the job in 2009.
Political scientists said the endorsement is likely to have only a small effect, but it's positive for Roberts in a tight contest.
"What it can do is get people to pay attention at the end of a long campaign," said Bob Beatty, a political science professor at Washburn University in Topeka. "They're trying to get a different dynamic in an ad just to get people to watch the ad."
Also contributing to this report was Philip Elliott in Washington.
New Roberts ad: http://bit.ly/1ziuv7w
Greg Orman campaign: http://www.ormanforsenate.com
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