Some number of people in Kansas — it's not really clear how many — are eagerly awaiting a decision from the Shawnee County District Court about whether Democrats will be required to name a candidate for the U.S. Senate.
In the meantime, a new look at the polls in that race shows why it matters.
A group of Kansas academics who take turns writing op-ed pieces under the heading Insight Kansas gathered all of the "independent, scientific, noncandidate-paid-for" polls in the major races, averaged them and came up with this:
With Democrat Chad Taylor on the ballot, independent candidate Greg Orman leads Republican Pat Roberts by an average 1.25 percentage points. That's pretty close to being a statistical dead heat.
That's the average of four polls, all taken after Taylor dropped out of the race. And two of those polls taken in mid-September — by Rasmussen Reports and Fox News — showed Roberts ahead by 1 and 2 points respectively.
But take Taylor off the ballot and ask people to choose between Roberts and Orman alone, and Orman's lead expands to an average 7.75 points.
Bob Beatty, a political science professor and part of the Insight Kansas group, said it's clear that when Taylor dropped out of the race in early September, the bulk of his support went to Orman. And if Taylor, or any other Democrat, is put back on the ballot, it takes support away from Orman.
"Because there's always going to be Republicans and Democrats who vote the party line," Beatty said. "If any Democrat is on that ballot, it takes away some votes from Orman."
That's precisely what Republicans stand to gain in the lawsuit pending in Topeka, and it shows pretty clearly why the Democratic Party has no particular interest in trying to put someone else on the ballot.
Beatty said the academics at Insight Kansas will continue putting out the polling averages each week between now and Election Day, looking mainly at the five most recent polls in each race. Here's what they're showing in the other major races right now:
• Governor: Democrat Paul Davis leads Republican Gov. Sam Brownback by an average of 5.4 percentage points. "The amazing thing there is how consistent it's been since June," Beatty said. "They all show Davis with a 4 to 7 point lead."
• Secretary of State: Republican incumbent Kris Kobach has a razor-thin lead of 1.8 points over Democrat Jean Schodorf, a former Republican state senator. In February, the first major poll, by Public Policy Polling, showed Kobach with a 7-point lead. But that's been narrowing in more recent surveys. Still, of the eight polls conducted in that race, only one has shown Schodorf with any kind of lead. That was SurveyUSA poll in early September that had her up by 3 points.
In addition to Beatty, Insight Kansas includes political science professors Burdett Loomis at Kansas University; Mark Peterson at Washburn University; Chapman Rackaway at Fort Hays State University; Michael Smith at Emporia State University; and Ed Flentje at Wichita State University.
Although Democrat Chad Taylor has dropped out of the race and terminated his own campaign, he still may be a deciding factor in the outcome of the U.S. Senate race in Kansas.
A new Fox News poll released Thursday shows that when voters are asked about the preference among all four named candidates in the race, Roberts has a narrow lead, 40-38 percent, over independent candidate Greg Orman, with Taylor still picking up 11 percent of the vote. Libertarian candidate Randall Batson showed up at only 2 percent, with 8 percent still undecided.
But as of this afternoon, the Kansas Supreme Court is still trying to decide whether Taylor's name should remain on the ballot. When asked to choose among the two main candidates still actively campaigning, the Fox News poll shows Orman ahead, 48-42 percent.
The poll was conducted jointly by Anderson Robbins Research, a Democratic firm, and Shaw & Company Research, a Republican polling company. The survey of 604 likely voters included both land line and cellphone respondents and claimed a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.
For Roberts, those numbers are slightly higher than other recent polls that have shown him getting 34-36 percent of the vote, depending on which candidates are included in the question.
The Kansas Senate race has generated the kind of national attention that is unusual in Kansas, in part because of the odd series of events surrounding Taylor's candidacy, but also because it could greatly affect the Republican Party's chances of taking control of the Senate.
Taylor won a contested primary Aug. 5 and secured the Democratic nomination. But with little fundraising success, and polls suggesting Roberts could be vulnerable this year, other Democrats reportedly pressured him to leave the race to make a clearer path for Orman, a wealthy businessman who is able to fund much of his own campaign.
On Sept. 3, Taylor filed a letter of withdrawal with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. But Kobach has refused to accept the withdrawal, arguing that Kansas law requires the letter to contain a declaration that he would be incapable of holding the office if elected.
That's the issue now pending before the Supreme Court.
Other polls have also suggested that leaving Taylor's name on the ballot could greatly influence the race, despite the fact that he has said in an affidavit to the Supreme Court that he will not accept the job if elected.
A survey earlier this week by Public Policy Polling showed Orman ahead in the race, with or without Taylor on the ballot. But his margin was significantly wider in a hypothetical two-person race (46-36 percent) than in a four-person race that includes Taylor and Batson (41-34 percent over Roberts, with Taylor still getting 6 percent and Batson polling at 4 percent).
A new poll out today shows Republican Sen. Pat Roberts trailing in his bid for a fourth term, with or without Democrat Chad Taylor's name on the ballot.
The survey by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic firm based in North Carolina, shows that in a head-to-head contest, independent candidate Greg Orman leads Roberts by 10 points, 46-36 percent, with 17 percent undecided.
But even if Taylor's name is included, Orman still leads the race by seven points, 41-34 percent, with Taylor getting 6 percent and Libertarian candidate Randall Batson polling at 4 percent.
The poll was released the same day the Kansas Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Taylor withdrawal case. Taylor filed a notice Sept. 3 with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach seeking to remove his name from the ballot, but Kobach has refused to do so, arguing that Taylor's letter did not meet the requirements of state law.
Many analysts have suggested that Taylor's withdrawal would benefit Orman's chances of unseating Roberts.
The survey of 1,328 likely voters was conducted over the past weekend and reported a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.
PPP did not tell respondents that Taylor is attempting to withdraw before asking the questions about the Senate race. But in subsequent questions in which they were informed, 63 percent said they believe Taylor should be removed from the ballot while 21 percent said he should not.
The only other recent public poll in the race, conducted by SurveyUSA in early September, showed Orman and Roberts virtually tied, 37-36 percent.
PPP is a private polling firm that works exclusively for Democratic candidates. However, its public polls are not conducted on behalf of any candidate and serve essentially as a marketing tool to promote the company and demonstrate the accuracy of its methodology.
An analysis by former New York Times columnist Nate Silver found that during the 2012 presidential campaign, PPP put 71 polls in the field and, when compared with actual election results, had a standard error of 2.7 percentage points, with a 1.6 point bias in favor of Republicans.
SurveyUSA rated slightly better. Out of 17 polls, it had a standard error of 2.2 percentage points, with a 0.5 point bias in favor of Republicans.
Other results from the latest PPP survey:
• In the governor's race, Democrat Paul Davis leads Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, 42-38 percent. That's narrower than the last SurveyUSA poll, which had Davis up 47-40 percent.
• For secretary of state, incumbent Republican Kris Kobach is running at 43 percent, making him virtually tied with Democratic challenger Jean Schodorf at 42 percent. Forty-four percent of those surveyed disapprove of the way Kobach has handled the Chad Taylor withdrawal case.
• For attorney general, Republican Derek Schmidt appears to be coasting to re-election as he leads Democratic challenger A.J. Kotich, 50-27 percent.
The U.S. Senate race in Kansas appears to have been taken over by the national organizations of both political parties, albeit in very different ways.
The latest news today is that the National Republican Senatorial Committee has taken over the troubled campaign of Sen. Pat Roberts, pushing out his longtime aide Leroy Towns as campaign manager and replacing him with Chris LaCivita, a consultant with the Virginia-based Advancing Strategies, LLC.
That move followed a bizarre turn of events on the Democratic side where national party officials, including Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, nudged their own candidate Chad Taylor out of the race in the hopes that independent candidate Greg Orman can knock off Roberts, even though Orman has never committed to caucusing with the Democrats if he wins.
That was followed by Republican maneuvers to force Taylor to stay in the race. Thursday afternoon, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican and a member of Roberts' honorary campaign team, ruled that Taylor could not withdraw from the ballot because he had not followed the letter of the law on how to do so, even though Taylor says he had consulted longtime elections chief Brad Bryant to make sure he was doing it properly.
It's rare that national political parties take any interest at all in a Kansas race. While the state has a pretty even history of electing governors from both parties, in presidential and U.S. Senate races, the state has long been a reliable GOP stronghold. Lyndon Johnson was the last Democrat to win Kansas' presidential electoral votes, and no Democrat has won a Senate race here since the Great Depression.
As a result, it's rare that any presidential candidate ever campaigns or runs a TV ad in Kansas. Democrats won't waste their money here; Republicans don't have to.
But this year's Senate race is different, (a) because it appears to be unusually close and (b) because nothing less than control of the U.S. Senate is at stake.
Roberts, who has been a fixture in Washington since he was a congressional aide in the 1960s, barely survived a bruising primary race against tea party challenger Milton Wolf, winning with less than 50 percent of the vote. Recent polls for the general election have shown him slightly ahead in an essentially three-way race against Taylor and Orman, but still getting less than 40 percent of the overall vote.
But in hypothetical head-to-head matchups, at least one poll showed Roberts could lose if Orman were the only major challenger in the race, while he could probably beat Taylor on his own.
That poll came from the Democratic-leaning firm Public Policy Polling. But the fact that Democrats are maneuvering to make it a two-man race between Roberts and Orman, coupled with GOP maneuvers to keep Taylor on the ballot and to take over Roberts' campaign, probably indicates they have internal polls showing much the same thing.
At stake in all this is the GOP's hopes of winning back control of the Senate this year. They need a net gain of six seats to accomplish that, and the latest guestimate from the statistics geeks at FiveThirtyEight blog say there's a 63.4 percent chance that will happen.
There are 36 Senate seats up for election this year, a bit more than usual because of three special elections in Oklahoma, Hawaii and South Carolina.
The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call says Republicans have strong hopes of picking up seats currently held by Democrats in Louisiana, Arkansas, Alaska, North Carolina, Colorado and Oregon. And if this turns out to be a “wave” election, they might well pick up additional seats in Minnesota and Virginia.
But if Roberts is vulnerable in Kansas, that could change the whole calculus.
And that's what makes the action by Democrats appear especially odd. Because by dumping Taylor in favor of Orman, they are gambling on at least a 50-50 chance that he'll caucus with the Republicans anyway, in which case the Democrats will have gained nothing.
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Chad Taylor is facing heat from a Democratic women's group stemming from a controversy three years ago over prosecuting domestic battery cases in Shawnee County. But Taylor says the issue is being misconstrued, and he insists he still has strong support from women voters.
Women for Kansas is a group that formed last year, mainly for the purpose of unseating Gov. Sam Brownback and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, both Republicans. Leaders of the group are mainly professional women from the Wichita area, but they expect about 480 women from throughout the state to attend their convention in Wichita this weekend.
Taylor, the Shawnee County district attorney, is challenging three-term incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican. The race also includes independent candidate Greg Orman and Libertarian candidate Randall Batson.
Taylor said he was not invited to speak at the convention. And when, at the urging of some members of the group, he asked to be included in the program, he was told there was no room for him. But Lynn Stephan, co-chairwoman of the group, denied that Taylor had ever called to ask. She also said the candidates speaking are only those who've been endorsed by the group.
Stephan said they decided to endorse Orman because they think he's the best candidate. But she also said, “Taylor has problems.”
Those problems, she said, stem from Taylor's decision in 2011 to stop prosecuting misdemeanor cases from the city of Topeka, about half of which involved domestic battery complaints. The intent, he said, was to send those cases to the city's municipal court.
Taylor said he made that decision after the Shawnee County Commission imposed across-the-board budget cuts of about 10 percent on all county agencies for the following year. Advocates for domestic violence victims complained loudly, as did the city of Topeka, which said its municipal court system could not handle the increased caseload.
The controversy soon mushroomed into national news when the Topeka City Council voted to repeal its ordinance against domestic battery. That was meant to force those cases back to the district attorney's office so they could be prosecuted in state court. But newspaper headlines and cable news talk shows suggested Topeka and Shawnee County had just "legalized" domestic battery.
Taylor said he learned a lot from that controversy and the media attention it drew.
"It sounded good (but) the factual recital at the time was inaccurate," he said. "It was an issue of budgets and who had the capacity in their system."
Under pressure from victims advocates, Taylor's office soon resumed prosecuting misdemeanors. And earlier this year, Topeka reinstated the ordinance against domestic battery.
Polls so far do not show Taylor suffering from a measurable gender gap. His support is split fairly evenly between men and women. He also says the controversy did not hurt him in 2012 when he was elected to a second term as DA.
“I think that the local citizens in Topeka and Shawnee County had a much clearer grasp of what was going on with the situation,” Taylor said. “If it was truly how it was made out to be in the national media, there ain't no way in hell I ever would have been elected to a second term.”
Still, the controversy haunts him on social media where an online petition appeared this week to urge the Kansas Democratic Party to remove Taylor from the ballot. The petition states that it's sponsored by "Kansas Women," but Stephan said it did not originate from her group, Women for Kansas. As of Tuesday, the petition had gained only six signatures.
Jason Perkey, executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party, said the party stands behind Taylor.
"Chad Taylor is the Kansas Democratic Party's nominee; Kansas Democrats made that decision three weeks ago in our primary," Perkey said.
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Chad Taylor's campaign says you can forget about any rumors that he's even remotely considering withdrawing from the race.
"He absolutely will not drop out," Taylor's campaign manager Brandon Naylor said by phone Friday.
Taylor won a close Democratic primary on Aug. 5 for the right to challenge three-term incumbent Republican Pat Roberts.
Political chatter that Taylor might - or at least should - consider dropping out has gained momentum in recent days, probably in no small part due to suggestions by independent candidate Greg Orman, who says he views himself as the only viable candidate to beat Roberts.
Earlier this week, the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling released a survey showing the general election race surprisingly close, with Roberts at 32 percent; Taylor at 25 percent; Orman at 23 percent; and Libertarian candidate Randall Batson at 3 percent. Another 17 percent said they are still undecided.
But in hypothetical head-to-head match-ups, Orman out-polled Roberts, 43-33 percent, while Taylor trailed the incumbent, 39-43 percent.
"As weak as a 32% standing is for an incumbent, that still gives him a pretty clear lead due to his opponents pretty much splitting the anti-Roberts vote evenly," PPP's analysts said. "But if one of them was to pull out Roberts would really be in trouble."
The fact that the Kansas seat may be in play is loaded with national implications because the GOP has its hopes set on winning back control of the Senate. To do that, they need a net gain of six seats, but their game plan has never even remotely considered the idea that Roberts might be vulnerable.
The independent polling firm Rasmussen Reports — which showed Roberts up 44-40 percent over Taylor in a two-way race — now puts the Kansas seat race in the "toss-up" column, and the Cook Political Report calls it "leans Republican."
Then Thursday night, Democrat Jim Sherow, who is running for Congress in the 1st District against incumbent Republican Tim Huelskamp, made headlines by announcing his endorsement of Orman.
All of that has unfolded in the days leading up to the Democratic Party's big "Demofest" convention this weekend, the party's big opportunity to showcase its candidates under one roof and collectively kick off their general election campaigns.
Naylor confirmed that Thursday night, Democratic Party executive director Jason Perkey went to visit Taylor to talk about Sherow's announcement, but said there was no discussion whatsoever about Taylor bowing out of the race.
But for all the talk about what might happen in a two-way race, Taylor's aides say the fact remains that it's a four-way race, including Batson. And in that contest, they say, Taylor is within a handful of percentage points against a sitting three-term incumbent.
Republican Sen. Pat Roberts leads his Democratic challenger Chad Taylor by only four percentage points, according to a new poll by the independent polling firm Rasmussen Reports.
The poll of 750 likely voters showed Roberts leading Taylor, 44-40 percent, with 8 percent saying they are undecided and 7 percent saying they support someone else.
It was conducted Aug. 6-7, immediately after the primary elections. It reported a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.
The poll did not mention independent candidate Greg Orman, who launched a bus tour today to kick off his campaign. As required by law, Orman filed by petition to run as an independent in the general election, but the Secretary of State's office has not yet received verification of the 10,000-plus petition signatures from county election officers, and so his name does not yet appear on the official list of candidates.
Roberts is seeking his fourth term in the Senate. He survived a primary challenge, winning 48-41 percent over tea party-backed candidate Milton Wolf. But the fact that Roberts failed to win over half the Republican primary vote has given Democrats hope that he could be vulnerable.
“This election is tightening because the people of Kansas recognize that they finally have a moderate alternative in this race,” Taylor said in a statement touting the poll results.
Drilling beyond the overall numbers, the Rasmussen poll showed revealed other interesting trends:
• Roberts does better among male voters (49-38 percent) while Taylor has a slight edge among women (43-39 percent).
• Taylor does better among younger voters (41-32 percent); but Roberts is favored by those age 40 and over.
• Roberts has high unfavorable ratings, while Taylor still struggles with name recognition. Forty-nine percent of those surveyed said they have either a "somewhat" or "very" unfavorable view of Roberts, compared to only 18 percent for Taylor. But 34 percent admitted they had never heard of Taylor.
A new poll out shows Democrat Paul Davis leading incumbent Gov. Sam Brownback by eight percentage points, although neither candidate is yet polling above 50 percent.
It also shows the GOP primary for U.S. Senate tightening, although incumbent Pat Roberts still has a sizable lead over Tea Party-backed challenger Milton Wolf.
The automated poll by SurveyUSA was conducted July 17-22 for KSN-TV in Wichita. It sampled 1,208 likely voters in Kansas through automated phone calls to both land lines and cellphones, with a reported margin of sampling error of 2.8 percent.
It shows Brownback facing serious challenges in his bid for a second term in the governor's office. In the upcoming Aug. 5 primary, it shows little-known challenger Jennifer Winn getting support from 30 percent of likely primary voters. And in the Nov. 5 general election, it shows Davis leading, 48-40 percent.
The poll also showed a deep split between Davis and Brownback supporters over what they consider to be the most important issues in the race. Among those who think education funding is the top issue, 76 percent say they support Davis, compared with only 18 percent for Brownback.
Brownback leads by narrower margins among voters focusing on economic issues: 55-34 percent for those who think tax rates are most important; and 54-31 percent for those citing job recruitment as the most important.
In the Republican U.S. Senate primary, Roberts, a three-term incumbent, still holds a 50-30 lead over Wolf, but that's narrower than the last SurveyUSA poll, which showed him ahead by 33 points. That portion of the poll included 691 likely GOP primary voters with a margin of error of 3.8 percent.
And in a hypothetical match-up in November against Chad Taylor, the leading Democrat in the race, Roberts is ahead by only five points, 38-33 percent, with independent candidate Greg Orman polling at 14 percent, and 10 percent of the respondents still undecided.
In the Demcoratic primary in that race, Taylor, the Shawnee County District Attorney, leads Lawrence attorney Patrick Wiesner, 48-17 percent, among likely Democratic primary voters. That portion of the poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 5.6 percent.
But if Wolf should pull off an upset in the primary, the SurveyUSA poll says Democrats could win their first Senate race in Kansas since 1932. In that hypothetical match-up, Taylor is ahead, 34-33 percent, a statistical dead heat in a poll with a 3.7 percent margin of error.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach's support slipped substantially over the last month, but he still leads his GOP challenger Scott Morgan of Lawrence, 56-30 percent. Last month, Kobach was ahead 61-29 percent. In a November match-up with Democrat Jean Schodorf, the race is much tighter, with Kobach ahead 47-41 percent.
A new poll of likely Kansas voters shows Republican Gov. Sam Brownback trailing Democrat Paul Davis by six percentage points, although neither candidate has yet broken the 50-percent mark.
The SurveyUSA poll shows Davis leading Brownback, 47-41 percent, with one in four self-identified Republican voters indicating they will cross party lines and vote for Davis.
The poll also showed Republican Sen. Pat Roberts with a 2-1 lead over Tea Party challenger Milton Wolf, while Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach enjoys a wide lead over his primary challenger Scott Morgan, of Lawrence, 61-29 percent.
"It's encouraging to hear what people across Kansas are saying," said Davis campaign spokesman Chris Pumpelly. "We're working hard to build a coalition of Republicans, independents and Democrats."
But Brownback campaign manager Mark Dugan said SurveyUSA has been inaccurate in past races in Kansas, including a 2012 ballot issue in Wichita about fluoridating public water.
"We're confident that once Kansans learn the record of Gov. Brownback as well as (House) Minority Leader Davis, they're going to make Sam Brownback successful in November," Dugan said.
The poll in the governor's race sampled 1,068 likely voters. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
Those supporting Brownback listed tax rates (52 percent) and job creation (55 percent) as the most important issues to them. But 73 percent of those supporting Davis listed education as their top priority.
It also showed Brownback polling strongly in western Kansas, where he leads Davis, 52-36 percent. But Davis outperformed Brownback in Wichita, Kansas City and eastern Kansas.
For the GOP primary race for U.S. Senate, the poll sampled 508 likely GOP primary voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. It showed Roberts ahead of Wolf, 56-23 percent.
Roberts is a three-term incumbent who represented the Big First district of western Kansas before he was elected to the Senate in 1996. The poll showed his support especially strong in western Kansas, where he leads Wolf by 67 percent to 17 percent.
Roberts' weakest area of support is in the Kansas City area, where he holds only a 43-30 percent lead, with 16 percent of Kansas City-area voters still undecided.
He also polled at more than 50 percent among self-described conservatives and across all income brackets and levels of education.
Those polled in the Senate primary race listed jobs and the economy (63 percent) and Obamacare (57 percent) as the top issues in the race.
On the Democratic side of the Senate race, the poll showed Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor is still struggling to gain name recognition. He leads in the Democratic primary over Lawrence attorney Patrick Wiesner, 41-16 percent, with 43 percent of likely Democratic primary voters still undecided.
In other races, the SurveyUSA poll showed:
• In a hypothetical match-up in the general election, Roberts leads both Taylor (43-33 percent) and Wiesner (45-29 percent). But if Wolf were the Republican nominee for Senate, Taylor leads 36-33 percent, with 18 percent undecided. Wiesner trails in a hypothetical match-up with Wolf, 30-36 percent.
• In the general election for secretary of state, Democrat Jean Schodorf trails both Republican candidates: 41-47 percent against Kobach; and 39-44 percent against Morgan.