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Greg Orman: The Most Interesting Man in Politics This November

Republican Pat Roberts looks even more vulnerable after yesterday's court ruling.
Image: Independent U.S. Senate candidate Greg Orman
Independent U.S. Senate candidate Greg Orman discusses voting trends with a class at Washburn University in Topeka, Kan., Sept. 17, 2014. Chris Neal / The Capital Journal via AP

The political story out of Kansas has become the biggest thing in the state since, well, Wilt Chamberlain. The reason: Not only is it looking possible that incumbent Gov. Sam Brownback (R) could go down to defeat in November, but so too could Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) -- which could make it harder for Republicans to win control of the Senate. And Roberts looks even more vulnerable after yesterday. On Thursday, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that Democratic Senate nominee Chad Taylor, who had earlier withdrawn his candidacy, should be removed from the ballot, nixing Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s (R) earlier decision to keep Taylor’s name on the ballot. Why is this significant? Because it changes the race. A Fox News poll released this week found Roberts slightly leading in a three-way race including Taylor – Roberts at 40%, independent Greg Orman at 38% and Taylor at 11%. But when Taylor is out of the equation and it becomes a two-man race, Orman leads, 48%-42%. And if Orman wins, there is the POSSIBILITY (though it’s hardly certain) he could caucus with Democrats, which means that Republicans would have to pick up ONE MORE Senate seat to win a majority. So with 46 days until Election Day, get to know Greg Orman. He could very well be … the most interesting man in politics come November.

GOP wants to force Democrats to pick a new nominee

But as the Kansas City Star notes, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) “isn’t giving up yet.” After the state Supreme Court ruled that Taylor’s name must come off the ballot, Kobach “said he’ll tell the Kansas Democratic Party to pick a replacement by noon Sept. 26. It wasn’t immediately clear how Kobach can force Democrats to pick another Senate nominee. Kobach had asked the state Supreme Court to consider such an order in Thursday’s ruling, but the judges said Democrats weren’t a part of the case.” But the National Republican Senatorial Committee argues that Kansas law states that a political party “shall” fill a vacancy after a primary election. But the timing is key: Can Kansas truly force the Democrats to hold a convention to pick a new nominee -- and do so before the ballots are printed for an election that’s about six weeks out? That’s the big question here.

The center strikes back?

A final point to make on Kansas: There are two separate stories why Brownback and Roberts are vulnerable heading into November, and they are not as related as some in Washington might think. For Brownback, it’s almost all about dissatisfaction with his tax cuts (the state’s economy is hardly humming) and his governing style (with moderate Republicans feeling alienated). For Roberts, the vulnerability is someone who hasn’t been living in the state or campaigning all that much -- and then throw in the fact that he’s now running in a two-man race against an independent. It’s also worth pointing out that what’s happening in Kansas is also playing out in Alaska’s gubernatorial race (with an independent-Democratic alliance), and it COULD be happening in South Dakota’s Senate race. Those are the exceptions, of course. But it SHOULD scare a lot of politicians that the center (with the help of angry populists on the left and right uniting) can strike back when the conditions are ripe. And guess what: NBC’s “Meet the Press” this Sunday will have a discussion on what’s happening in Kansas and, in particular, how what’s happening in Kansas could impact the national Republican Party’s economic philosophy for YEARS to come.

Breaking down yesterday’s Senate authorization vote

Turning back to the happenings in Washington, the Senate yesterday passed the authorization to arm the Syrian rebels by a 78-22 vote. There were some interesting votes when it comes to 2014: Sens. Mark Pryor (D-AR), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Mark Udall (D-CO) voted yes, but Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) voted no. And for 2016: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) voted yes, while Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY) voted no. And on the Democratic side, Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) also voted no. After the vote, President Obama made a brief statement praising the vote. “Here at home, I’m pleased that Congress -- a majority of Democrats and a majority of Republicans, in both the House and the Senate -- have now voted to support a key element of our strategy: our plan to train and equip the opposition in Syria so they can help push back these terrorists. As I said last week, I believe that we’re strongest as a nation when the President and Congress work together.” NBC’s “Meet the Press” will interview no-vote Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) and yes-vote Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), as well as former Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen.

Rift between Obama and the generals?

But while many Democrats and Republicans were united in supporting the Syrian-rebel authorization, the Washington Post becomes the latest news organization to report on a rift between President Obama and the generals. “Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, who served under Obama until last year, became the latest high-profile skeptic on Thursday, telling the House Intelligence Committee that a blanket prohibition on ground combat was tying the military’s hands. ‘Half-hearted or tentative efforts, or airstrikes alone, can backfire on us and actually strengthen our foes’ credibility,’ he said. ‘We may not wish to reassure our enemies in advance that they will not see American boots on the ground.’” The White House has two arguments against U.S. boots on the ground: 1) that the American public wouldn’t support them, and 2) that they only keep the Iraqis and others reliant on U.S. military help instead of building up their own country.

Look at what the NRCC is focusing on -- national security, not health or the economy

And don’t miss what the National Republican Congressional Committee is doing on ISIS. It is airing TV ads on the issue, questioning whether Democrats are tough enough on terrorists (see here, here and here). It’s 2002-2004 all over again! Here we are, six weeks from Election Day and the GOP is potentially going to close with a message on national security -- not on health care or the economy. Who would have thunk it 6 months ago? By the way, as Dante Chinni points out, the fear of terrorism is most pronounced in rural America, which may explain why the NRCC is specifically going after Democrats in less urbanized swing districts on this point, including NY-24 and IA-3.

Anarchy in the UK … is avoided

NBC News: “The United Kingdom remained intact Friday after 55.3 percent of Scottish voters rejected independence in a record-breaking national referendum. Scotland's largest city, Glasgow, voted in favor of independence — itself a significant milestone in British history — but that was not enough to secure an overall victory for the 'Yes' campaign.” More: “Despite a sudden and historic surge in support for separation, the final defeat came at 6:10 a.m. local time (1:10 a.m. ET) when Fife declared its results, pushing the 'No' side over the 50 percent threshold needed for victory. More than 84 percent of registered voters turned out.”

NBC/Marist poll: Nearly 90% say NFL problems won’t change their viewing habits

As our NBC/Marist poll from last night showed, if the NFL is simply worried about its fan base, it doesn’t have much to worry about. “Nearly 90 percent of Americans say the recent outcry about domestic violence in the NFL hasn’t changed how much professional football they watch — and less than a third of the nation believes NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell should resign. That’s the result of an exclusive NBC News/Marist poll, which also finds that a majority of Americans – including nearly six in 10 self-described football fans – say they disapprove of the way the NFL has handled the domestic-violence allegations.” Bottom line: These numbers help explain why the NFL, despite making some changes, is essentially hunkering down.

First Read’s Race of the Day: GA SEN

Perdue vs. Nunn: This contest is one of the Democrats’ best pick-up opportunities this cycle, but it won’t be easy. Democrats got their candidate early -- Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-GA). And the party’s hope was that the GOP, as they did in 2010 and 2012, would nominate a Tea Party-backed candidate who might give Nunn the edge in the race. But that didn’t happen: Establishment-backed David Perdue beat establishment-backed Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) in the runoff. Most polls show that the race remains close, but Perdue has the edge in the state Mitt Romney won in 2012, 53%-46%.

Countdown to Election Day: 46 days

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