Candidates for U.S. Senate went head to head Saturday at the Kansas State Fair in front of a crowd that looked and sounded more like the Sunflower Showdown than a political forum. It was the first debate of this general election cycle, and came just days after Democrat Chad Taylor dropped out of the race.
Although Taylor will stay on the ballot, he was absent Saturday. Which meant Senator Pat Roberts faced only Independent challenger Greg Orman on stage. The Incumbent's responses were conservative in nature, but a liberal senator from Nevada quickly took the spotlight.
"We have to break Harry Reid's strangle hold on the Senate," Roberts said. The Senate majority leader became a trend in Roberts' answers. "I'm the only candidate on this stage who will put Harry Reid out to pasture."
FactFinder 12 went through the hour-long debate and tallied how many times Roberts said Harry Reid. We counted 20.
Political analysts say Orman is one of the strongest independent candidates they have seen in decades. So why does Roberts keep associating Orman with Reid? We asked political scientist Dr. Russell Arben Fox.
"If you destroy his reputation as a true independent, then his appeal to moderate Republicans, pragmatic problem-solving conservatives, goes away," Fox said.
We took to the streets of Wichita to find out if the strategy is working and how much people know about Reid. We quickly found they don't know a lot. Of the handful of people we interviewed, Logan Gibson was the only person who had heard of Reid.
"I think only the hardcore, partisans really know," Gibson said. "I don't think the general mainstream public pays that much attention to the inner-workings of the United States Senate."
Fox said if Republican voters think of Orman as a Democrat, they will vote for Roberts to go back to Washington. Fox said that would help the Republican party work towards a majority in the Senate. Although, he said the strategy could backfire for Roberts.
"It's possible that Pat Roberts saying Harry Reid every other sentence is going to start to annoy some Kansas voters."
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