By Zach Toillion
In the last week maneuvering by state Democratic parties and Independent candidates have significantly altered two races in states traditionally held by Republicans.
In Alaska incumbent Governor Sean Parnell appeared poised to win re-election easily. In 2010, Parnell was elected with 59 percent of the vote-a 22 percent margin of victory. The most recent polling shows Parnell now trails Independent candidate Bill Walker by four percent. Alaska also has a close Senate election, making Alaska one of the most competitive states on the 2014 electoral map.
Walker is a former Republican who challenged Parnell in the 2010 Republican Primary earning 34 percent of the vote. Walker’s credibility among Republicans makes his selection of Democrat Byron Mallot for Lieutenant Governor notable. Mallot was the Democratic nominee for Governor before he joined Walker’s ticket. If he is elected, Walker would be the only Independent Governor in the country.
In Kansas incumbent Senator Pat Roberts now faces the biggest political threat of his 33 year career. Democratic nominee Chad Taylor abruptly announced he would exit the race on September 3rd leaving Independent candidate Greg Orman as the central challenger to Pat Roberts. Public Policy Polling conducted a poll in August that showed Orman leading Roberts by 10 percent.
Orman has not publicly stated whether or not he would caucus with the Democrats or Republicans. Many believe he would caucus with the Democrats based on Taylor’s withdrawal from the race. Orman was previously a registered Democrat and ran for Senate against Roberts in 2008 as such. Orman has positioned himself as a centrist, rolling out endorsements from over 70 prominent Kansas Republicans.
In an interview in Wichita, Orman stated, “Washington is broken, and we’re sending the worst of both parties to Washington – people who are bitter partisans who seem to care more about pleasing the extremists in their own party and the special interests than they do in solving problems.” adding “I didn’t feel like either party fit me well as someone who is fiscally responsible and socially tolerant.”
Taylor’s withdrawal immediately shook up the campaign, with national Republicans being hired to help shore up Roberts’s support. Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican, denied Taylor’s request to be removed from the ballot entirely, meaning the Democrat will remain on the ballot despite suspending his campaign. The last time Kansas elected a Democratic Senator was in 1932. Kansans most recently elected a Democrat to statewide office in 2006, when Kathleen Sebelius was elected governor.
Control of the Senate has remained close all year, and the shake up in Kansas gives Democrats a chance to retain the Senate that few could have predicted even two weeks ago.