OVERLAND PARK, Kansas (AP) — Independent candidate Greg Orman, running a surprisingly competitive race for the Senate in Kansas, has based his campaign on his disdain for both major political parties. But the parties have something the Kansas City businessman could really use right now: an established get-out-the-vote operation.
In most elections, making sure that friendly voters cast their ballots is more important for a candidate in a race's final days than wooing new supporters.
Orman's opponent, three-term Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, has several thousand GOP campaign workers and volunteers armed with the latest voter information who are making sure his likely supporters vote in person or by mail. This week, the National Republican Senatorial Committee dispatched a top operative to help oversee his phone bank, door-knocking and transportation efforts.
Orman, 45, hopes that a quickly assembled turnout effort using new voter data techniques and about 800 volunteers will make up for his lack of a party apparatus.
"It's not easy," said Orman campaign manager Jim Jonas, "but we're using every tool in the toolshed."
Orman, whose campaign surged in September when the Democratic challenger dropped out of the race, is trying to appeal to voters disgusted with partisan gridlock in Washington. He is especially targeting registered independents, who make up 30 percent of Kansas' electorate, along with any Republicans tired of Roberts, 78, after his four decades in Washington. Forty-two percent of GOP voters supported Roberts' opponent, a tea party advocate, in the primary.
Orman hired a firm to design a database of likely supporters based on their political, demographic and consumer information. Polls showing Orman and Roberts running neck-and-neck have indicated that a majority of independents favor Orman.
"There's a unique opportunity because there's normally not a candidate independents can connect with," said Dave Beattie, Orman's pollster. "They are searching for someone outside the system that no party candidate is able to satisfy."
The Orman campaign, with a half-dozen field offices in the state, has also recruited volunteers from among the 11,000 people who signed his election registration petitions. Also providing a boost is an outside group, Mayday PAC, that advocates shrinking the influence of money in politics and that usually backs Democrats. The group, which is involved in six congressional races, has activists making calls and promoting Orman among Facebook friends in Kansas.
The group's involvement betrays the truth about Orman's political operation, said Roberts campaign manager Corry Bliss.
"It would be no surprise that liberal out-of-state organizations are spending millions of dollars," to help Orman, Bliss said.
Behind Roberts' turnout efforts are the combined assets of the state and national GOP. Individually, Roberts has raised $6.95 million as of last week. Roberts had raised roughly $3.5 million.
The GOP is running phone banks staffed with veterans of previous campaigns and last-minute additions. Besides calling registered Republicans, they are contacting members of community organizations that tend to be conservative, such as anti-abortion and pro-firearm groups. The callers are also pushing turnout for other GOP candidates.
Roberts also has the advantage of GOP chairmen and committee members from Kansas' 105 counties. Orman is reaching out to a network of people he met in get-acquainted sessions with local service organizations and business groups over the summer.
Roberts' get-out-the-vote edge has been visible in the flood of anti-Orman mailings going out to households in the last few weeks. Democrats, who normally mount a similar effort, have been idle to avoid lending support to Roberts' charge that Orman is actually a closet liberal who doesn't represent Kansas' conservative values.