The national political spotlight rarely shines on Kansas as brightly as it does right now.

The state is known for its populist tradition and a certain political independent streak but what’s happening now in the U.S. Senate race has Kansans and political observers across the country shaking their heads.

The featured players in this drama are an incumbent Republican senator, an Independent challenger and a dismissed Democratic candidate. Playing supporting roles have been members of the Kansas Supreme Court and the Kansas secretary of state. The court is playing a non-partisan role, but every other aspect of this highly unusual situation is based on political calculations on all sides and the desire to gain political advantage. The Kansas race is drawing national attention because it may play a role in determining the majority party in the Senate.

Sen. Pat Roberts, the Republican incumbent, has served 16 years in the U.S. House and three terms in the U.S. Senate. In a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1932, Roberts probably expected a relatively easy race. On the contrary, he was challenged from the right in a tough primary race, during which questions were raised about his Kansas residency and whether he had spent so much time in Washington, D.C., that he had lost touch with his Kansas constituents.

Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor narrowly won the Democratic primary, was lagging far behind Roberts in fundraising and seemed like a manageable challenger. Then, along came Greg Orman, a wealthy Johnson County resident running as an Independent. Orman got the attention of Kansans who were fed up with the job that representatives of both parties were doing in Congress — which appears to be a pretty large portion of the electorate.

After the primary, polls showed Roberts garnering under 40 percent support, meaning he might be vulnerable, but not if Orman and Taylor split the rest of the vote. After considering his funding situation and conferring with Democratic leaders, Taylor decided to withdraw from the race. Orman hasn’t acknowledged any role in that decision, but Taylor did meet with Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who reportedly asked him to step down to unify support for Orman.

Then, another battle erupted over whether Taylor’s name had to remain on the ballot. While Democrats fought to have the name of their own candidate removed, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a member of Roberts’ honorary campaign committee, fought to keep it on. The court said Taylor’s name should be taken off the ballot and took no stand on whether the Democrats had to name a replacement. With the deadline approaching to send ballots to Kansas voters who live in other countries, Kobach eventually agreed to send ballots without a Democratic candidate for Senate but only with an accompanying disclaimer indicating that ballot may be replaced later.

Are you keeping up?

The good news about this situation is that it certainly should have raised the awareness of Kansas voters about their U.S. Senate race. The bad news, is that all these shenanigans likely are confusing some voters and turning off many others who are more disgusted than ever with the political process.

By any standard, this election season in Kansas is one for the books. Kansas voters have some important choices to make in November. Hopefully, they will be able to sift through the political drama and cast well-considered votes.

— Lawrence Journal-World

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