How An Independent Candidate Could Determine Control of the Senate


Greg Orman

An independent running in the Kansas Senate race has the potential to shake up the midterms this November. On Wednesday the Democratic Senate candidate, Chad Taylor, withdrew from the race, leaving incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts to face off against independent candidate Greg Orman. Not only that, but there's a chance Orman could win. While FiveThirtyEight forecasts Republicans have a 63.4% chance of taking the Senate this fall, there is a chance this independent candidate could be the decisive vote between Republican and Democratic control of the chamber.

First, if the Senate is split, the Republicans would lose a secure Republican seat and if Greg Orman wins, he could decide to caucus with either the Democrats or Republicans, throwing them Senate control.

Second, there is a chance Orman could actually win. A PPP Poll found that, what was at the time a hypothetical match-up, Greg Orman would beat his Republican opponent 43 to 33 percent. This is surprising given that the same poll found the same Republican beating the Democratic challenger 43 to 39 percent. So voters would favor the Republican against the Democrat, but perhaps an independent over a Republican.

One reason Orman may fare better than the Democrat against Sen. Pat Roberts is that Roberts nearly lost his primary to a Tea Party-backed challenger. Subsequent the primary, disaffected Republicans may be looking for a non-partisan alternative.

Third, Orman has nearly the same favorability (24%) rating as the incumbent Republican, Pat Roberts, (27%), and higher than the former Democratic candidate (15%). The main point of difference is that Orman has predictably lower unfavorable ratings (12% v 44%) and voters are less likely to have an opinion of him (64% to 29%). While Roberts clearly has the fundraising advantage, Orman raised roughly 6 times the amount in individual contributions compared to the Democratic candidate ($625,000 to $120,000).

If Orman wins, it remains unclear if he'd caucus with the Republicans or Democrats. Politico reports he has run in the past both as a Republican and a Democrat. He gave money to Barack Obama in 2008 but then to Republican Scott Brown in Massachusetts in 2009. Orman says he'll most likely caucus with the majority party, but he would be drawn to the party most committed to fixing problems in 1) health care 2) the tax code 3) and entitlement programs among other pressing issues.

His prioritization for reforming entitlements, health care, and taxes combined with his Princeton economics degree, McKinsey consulting pedigree, and experience founding his own energy efficient lighting company, suggests him to be a centrist fiscal reformer, with a penchant for pragmatism over ideology.