Publisher of The Hutchinson News Touts Businessman Greg Orman's Independent Campaign For Senate

"A bruising primary against a far-right opponent forced Roberts further off the deep end and forced him to defend his Kansas residency, something that hadn't been much of an issue to voters his 34 years in Congress.

Roberts survived the primary, and then along came Greg Orman. And that is the third thing.

A political unknown who registered both Republican and Democrat in the past, a self-made multimillionaire who has contributed to politicians of both stripes, Orman jumped into the race as an independent. Once the primary was over, he emerged as a real contender.

He is the anti-Roberts, and Roberts amplifies that every time he goes on a rant about Obama or Reid. All Orman has to say is, there you go, that's the problem with Washington."

http://www.hutchnews.com/opinion/columnists/an-independent-making-a-run-at-roberts-really/article_7c5ae604-25a5-5c6b-be0a-5b9f7b7b5bf0.html

Kansas is headed toward one of the most fascinating state elections in recent memory. As interesting as it will be to watch the referendum on the policies and politics of Gov. Sam Brownback and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, our U.S. Senate race most interests me.

Had someone asked me six months ago whether veteran Sen. Pat Roberts would have any trouble getting re-elected, without hesitation I would have said "no." But not only is his re-election in jeopardy now, the challenge is coming from the most unlikely of places.

Historically, running as an independent has been a nearly pointless exercise. Think John Anderson and Ross Perot running for president. The latter did as well as anyone, taking 19 percent of the popular vote, though no electoral votes, in 1992.

Third-party candidates and independents rarely get much attention in Kansas. In 2002, Libertarian Party candidate Steve Rosile got 9 percent and Reform Party candidate George Cook got 8 percent against Roberts, with no Democrat in the race.

But Roberts got 83 percent to capture his second term, and that's how most of his elections have gone. Until this year. Two things happened – well, maybe three.

First, Roberts got to be 78 years old while serving in Congress, and voters began to think he was out of touch. Roberts' dry sense of humor became his own worst enemy when he joked that he had "full access" to the recliner at the home of donors in Dodge City, where he was paying rent intended to qualify him as having a residence in the state.

Next, Roberts listened to the advice of the political advisers who tell Republicans running in Kansas that they have to come off appearing as the most extreme conservative ever to have sipped tea. So Roberts started regurgitating all the talking points – love guns, hate immigrants – and just generally lambasting President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid at every turn.

It sounded strange coming from the previously affable, sensible Pat Roberts. Former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum Baker of Kansas refused to endorse Roberts, saying people "feel they don't know him now."

A bruising primary against a far-right opponent forced Roberts further off the deep end and forced him to defend his Kansas residency, something that hadn't been much of an issue to voters his 34 years in Congress.

Roberts survived the primary, and then along came Greg Orman. And that is the third thing.

A political unknown who registered both Republican and Democrat in the past, a self-made multimillionaire who has contributed to politicians of both stripes, Orman jumped into the race as an independent. Once the primary was over, he emerged as a real contender.

He is the anti-Roberts, and Roberts amplifies that every time he goes on a rant about Obama or Reid. All Orman has to say is, there you go, that's the problem with Washington.

“We’re sending the worst of both parties to Washington,” Orman said at a debate last week. “Bitter partisans who care more about pleasing the extremists and the special interests in their own party than solving problems. … I will stand up for the best idea regardless of what party it comes from."

That resonates with me, someone who never has felt affinity to either of the two predominant political parties. That's partly because of my role as a journalist but also reflective of my personal viewpoints.

Like Orman, I consider myself "fiscally responsible and socially tolerant." But more importantly, I am sick of the immature partisan nonsense that permeates our society's politics. It's become, as Orman says, "two parties that are more interested in seeing the other party fail than in seeing the country succeed.”

Orman happens to be darn smart. He is Princeton educated and a highly successful entrepreneurial businessman. His wealth might be an issue except that he did not come up through a life of privilege and because plenty of other millionaires – including Roberts – occupy seats in Congress.

And actually it is his wealth – listed on campaign disclosure reports as between $21.5 million and $86 million – is how he could make a run at this, to self-finance an expensive campaign and not accept any corporate or PAC money. These days, it's about the only way to challenge a well-entrenched incumbent, especially as an independent.

Roberts has been insistent in pinning down the party Orman would caucus with if elected, trying to lead voters to deduce that he must be an Obama-loving liberal Democrat if he won't commit.

But Orman says he will caucus with the majority party, whichever that might be. It wouldn't matter to me except, as Orman explained, he'd have to choose for purposes of committee assignments.

On a visit to The Hutchinson News, I asked Orman how one independent – good as his reformist platform sounds – could change the culture in Congress. Orman described a scenario whereby the Senate came within two seats of either party having control, Orman and at least one other true independent senator could influence one party or the other to adopt their agendas and a more bipartisan posture.

Imagine: two independents, one of them elected by the great state of Kansas, being in a position to change the political gridlock infesting the U.S. Senate.

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