Election 2020

Parties Bracing for Kansas Indie Gubernatorial Candidate to Potentially Play Spoiler

Kansas City-area businessman Greg Orman speaks to reporters in Topeka on Aug. 6, 2018. (Thad Allton/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP File)

Kansas Democrats are challenging thousands of petition signatures submitted by independent gubernatorial candidate Greg Orman’s campaign in the equivalent of an NFL quarterback’s desperation Hail Mary pass into the end zone.

Instead of hoping to score a game-winning touchdown, supporters of Democrat Sen. Laura Kelly’s bid for governor want to stop Orman before the businessman gets any closer to Kansas’ highest elective office or, worse, splitting the November vote and throwing the election to conservative Republican Kris Kobach.

No offense intended, but the state Dorothy called home could be small potatoes. One political pundit warns Kansas voters there is more at stake in November than who’s running the store in Topeka. He’s urging one of the three candidates to drop out before the election because a victory could encourage Kobach to next seek election to the White House.

The objection to thousands of Orman petition signatures involves one signature collector who garnered more than 1,000 signatures over seven days. A superhuman effort to be sure, says Pedro Irigonegaray, an attorney for Will Lawrence, who filed the objection.

Irigonegaray said simple arithmetic shows this signature collector would have had to persuade someone to sign a petition every 4.5 minutes for 11 hours each day from 20 different counties.

“That statistic casts serious doubt as to the validity of the signatures,” said Irigonegaray.

The filing also claimed there were problems with notary dates on the signature pages in question and suggested some notaries public were notarizing petition pages without actually seeing the petition circulator signing his name to the documents.

In Kansas, a Democrat like Kelly can’t depend on her party’s members to win the election. The GOP holds a nearly 2-1 voter advantage over Democrats, so Kelly needs every independent and even Republican vote she can get to become Kansas’ next governor.

But Orman campaign spokesman Sam Edelen said the “frivolous filing simply shows the lengths to which supporters of a failed system will go.”

“They want to avoid giving voters a real choice at all costs,” Edelen argued.

Bob Beatty, professor of political science at Washburn University in Topeka, told the Topeka Capital-Journal chances are the Democratic bid will fail. But should the move succeed, Beatty said erasing Orman’s name from the ballot “would be another earthquake in an election that’s already had a couple.”

President Trump stood at the epicenter of the first of those quakes when he endorsed Kansas Secretary of State Kobach’s underdog GOP gubernatorial primary campaign. Kobach won and gave credit where he felt credit was due.

“I think it was absolutely crucial. There’s no question that the Election Day voting went much more strongly for me as compared to the advance voting,” Kobach told an audience in Overland Park hours before Gov. Jeff Colyer conceded the primary election.

Another quake came Aug. 27 when Colyer’s campaign chairman, Steve Baccus, flipped to the Orman camp even though his former boss had followed Trump and endorsed Kobach.

Kobach said he wasn’t bothered by Baccus’ move. “It’s no surprise that Topeka insiders are sticking together,” the GOP nominee for governor said in a statement.

The ground’s been rumbling under Democrat Laura Kelly’s feet, but not because of Kobach’s insurgent campaign. Her camp’s been rattled by the aftershocks following wealthy businessman Orman’s strong gubernatorial campaign, as evidenced by the bid to block his petition signatures.

Beatty explained a three-candidate race means the winner could move into the governor’s mansion with only 34 percent of the vote. “Getting 35 percent versus 51 percent makes a giant difference in how you run a campaign,” Beatty told the Wichita Eagle.

As a result, Beatty said, Democrats might be trying to set up super PAC attacks on Orman’s campaign in the last weeks before the election.

Kansas City Star columnist Steve Rose believes that’s a tactic that could backfire not only in Topeka, but in Washington D.C., as well.

Rose doesn’t think Kobach is going to get any more than 40 percent of the November vote. “If Orman and Kelly split up the remaining 60 percent,” Rose wrote, “all Orman needs to garner is 21 percent of the vote to make it mathematically impossible for Kelly to win.”

“Her battle has never been more daunting,” Rose added.

Rose thinks Kelly and Orman should start looking at each other as allies instead of adversaries.  “If by Oct. 6 — one month before the general election — either candidate finds himself or herself at least 10 points behind the other… the one who is behind should withdraw and throw total support to the other.”

The scribe urged the gubernatorial candidates to remember the real mission: keep Kris Kobach out of the White House, which Rose maintained is the GOP candidate’s actual goal.

“Make no mistake,” Rose opined. “The stakes could not be higher.”

But with the low bar of 34 percent — assuming all three candidates hang in there until Nov. 6 — what if Orman wins? He is not content to play the role of spoiler. Orman wants to win this election.

“Voters are going to have a clear choice in the fall,” Orman said to the Associated Press. “And it’s going to be between someone who’s an independent and an outsider and is going to serve them and someone who is a lifetime, career partisan politician.”

Charles Wheelan, a co-chairman of the political centrist group Unite America, said an Orman victory would “elevate the quality of independent candidates everywhere in the country.”

And if he loses, Chris Reeves, a Kansas City Democrat and member of the Democratic National Committee, said Orman will be branded as the spoiler who gave Kris Kobach the chance to become governor of Kansas with less than 45 percent of the popular vote.

If that happens, Reeves warned, “Greg Orman had better be ready to be run out of town on a rail.”