The Wichita Eagle reported this week that Greg Orman who got over 40 percent of the vote in a loss running for the U.S. Senate against Pat Roberts in 2014 as an Independent is putting together the team to make a run at the Governor’s office in 2018, again as an Independent.
This is likely good news for whoever the survivor is of the state’s
Republican primary, according to a University of Kansas professor.
“For him to be coming in to the race where he is, in the middle to the left side of the political spectrum, that certainly is something that is going to help the Republicans,” said Patrick Miller, a University of Kansas political scientist. “Republicans do have an advantage for the opposition to be split. That is certainly something that will advantage whatever Republican comes out of their primary.”
At least at this point, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach would look to be that beneficiary.
Granted, we don’t have a lot of polls in that race,” said Miller. “Given what little data we know, we know that he has higher name I.D., he was leading the initial polls. Looking at the candidates, he has a much better developed image. To the extent that voters know who he is, and I wouldn’t overestimate that, they probably have a pretty good sense of what Kobach stands for, other candidates not so much. He has a pretty well developed national network. There is a lot of time left in this race for other Republican candidates to come along, particularly Jeff Colyer, who will likely be becoming Governor soon, to really develop their own images and their own campaigns. Six months from now, we may not be talking about Kobach, still as the frontrunner, but I think that’s a fair characterization as of today. The onus is on other Republicans to challenge that, at this point.”
A legitimate three-way race between Kobach, Orman and a Democrat (likely Jim Ward or Carl Brewer) would be a rare thing to see in modern-day politics.
“It’s very common for independent or third party candidates to run, but it’s rare that they are considered viable,” said Miller. “The number of independents or third-party candidates who really have a shot at winning is quite small. We tend to think of them more as spoilers, as people who really don’t have the numbers to win, but we think about who they tend to draw from more. The other thing I’ll point out about independents is, usually, they poll a lot better than they actually do on Election Day. That was the case with Greg Orman in Kansas in 2014, even though he was the only major candidate facing Roberts. Orman went into Election Day slightly leading Roberts in the poll average, but then lost by about 10 percent. That kind of lag or discrepancy is actually quite normal.”
It may not be as important to look at how many votes Orman might get, but who he’s drawing support away from.
“I would suspect he’s probably going to hurt the Democrat more than he is going to hurt the Republican in the race,” said Miller. “If you’re a Republican consultant right now, particularly if you are Kobach’s team, with Kris Kobach thinking that he is the Republican frontrunner, pop the champagne bottle.”
The path to victory for Orman may lie in appealing to a different type of voter than he did when running in 2014.
“His vote was basically the Paul Davis vote,” said Miller. “He really didn’t show that he had a unique constituency. The challenge for Orman in the next year is to show that he has a viable path forward, but also to expand his voter appeal. If the only people he’s drawing from are people who are Democrats or would lean Democratic in the Governor’s race, then he’s really adding nothing new. He’s just splitting the pie. He needs to develop a strategy to pull away from
whoever that Republican is. Who is the person, who’s that voter, who is going to vote for Kobach, but might think about voting for a different candidate only if Orman gets in? I don’t know if that voter exists, but Orman needs to create a market for that.”
Given that Orman will not have to survive a primary, he has more than a year to make that case.