Table of Contents
Description and Outcome of the Race
Factors Contributing to the Outcome of the Race
Contributions to the Understanding of American Politics
This year’s midterm elections aroused a lot of attention because they could change the composition of America’s legislature branch. Whereas the party of Democratic president Obama has the majority in the Senate since 2006, Republicans are the majority party in the second American legislative chamber, the House of Representatives, for 5 years. In the midterm election 2014, Republicans now regained control of the Senate and are therefore the majority party in the entire bicameral 114th United States Congress. The Republican control of the Congress makes it hard for the governing party and Obama to push through their political agenda whereas it makes it easier for the GOP.
The senate race in Kansas also caught special attention in the midterm elections. For some states, you can already predict the election results because of their voters’ partisanship, Kansas has actually been known as a reliably Republican state. The senate race 2014, however, was ranked as a tossup by the Rothenberg Political Report, the Cook Political Report, and newspapers like the Washington Post. Furthermore, the course of this race included some interesting and extraordinary events which could have influenced its outcome. If Republicans have to worry about winning the office in Kansas then this race will have a huge impact on the entire fight for the Senate majority. Therefore, this paper will take a closer look at this race, its process, and the reasons for its outcome.
The first section of the paper will briefly describe the history of the race from the primary elections to the nominees, their issue positions, and their supporters. Afterwards the election results will be mentioned before factors that shaped this outcome will be discussed. The forth part of the paper will then analyze in which ways the Kansas race highlights parts of the American political system. The conclusion will finally restate the aim of the analysis and summarize the results. It will also outline the limitations of this study and hence, give some recommendations for further work that needs to be done.
The American Senate seats are divided in three classes which schedule the offices which will be elected in a particular year. The state Kansas always has two incumbents in the Senate: a senator of Class 2 and a senator of Class 3. In this 2014 race, the senator for Kansas’ seat in Class 2 will be elected. To be able to talk about the details of this race in Kansas, you first have to come to know the candidates better.
The Republican Charles Patrick Roberts (in the following: Pat Roberts), born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1936, has been the Class 2 Senator of Kansas for three terms since 1997. Before that, he served eight terms in the House of Representatives as the representative of Kansas’ 1st congressional district. He won the Republican primaries by defeating Dr. Milton Wolf, a Tea party proponent, with a narrow 7% margin. Despite that, Wolf managed to hold the three-term incumbent Roberts to less than half of the votes (48%). Each of the other two Republican candidates, Alvin Zahnter and Della Jean, only polled less than 6% of the votes. The Republican Party in Kansas is known for its closed primary process which allows only registered party members to vote for a nominee. Pat Roberts does not own a house in Kansas because he actually lives in Virginia with his family. His agenda included some side blows to President Obama whose policy Roberts criticizes. He, for instance, opposes Obama care and the Obama administration’s regulations in the agriculture and energy sector. Roberts also supports the construction of the Keystone pipeline and is pro guns1.
Pat Roberts’ Independent opponent was Gregory John Orman (in the following: Greg Orman), born in Minnesota but living in Kansas. He is a businessman, founder, and investor. Among others, he co-founded the Common Sense Coalition for Change Inc. in 2010 to inform and present American voters who cannot identify with either the Republican or the Democratic Party. In the beginning of his political career, he sometimes sympathized with the GOP and sometimes with the Democratic Party. In 2008, for example, he decided to run for the Kansas’ Senate seat as a Democratic candidate against Roberts but stepped out of the race before the primaries. Furthermore, he donated money to running candidates of both parties including current Democratic President Barack Obama. Even though he supported both parties, critics accuse him of not being 100% independent and standing by the Democratic Party because of his past support for Obama and his candidacy 2008. To become an independent candidate allowed running in Kansas’ Senate race, he had to get “signatures from 5000 registered Kansas voters”2. Orman was able to collect more than twice as many votes and submitted them to the Secretary of State. He wants to strengthen the American economy again and secure America’s borders. Orman also wants to make healthcare affordable for everyone and demands careful background checks of people who want to buy a gun.
The Democratic candidate for the Senate race was Chad Taylor, born in Kansas and since 2008 district attorney of Shawnee County. He won over Patrick Wiesner in the Democratic primaries by a 53% to 47% margin and became the Democratic nominee for the Kansas’ senate race. On September 3rd, 2014, he withdrew from his candidacy in the race. Taylor did not declare the reasons for his drop out in public. Critics, the opponent parties, and media, however, claimed that the Democrats had not wanted to lose their majority in the Senate and had therefore wanted to prevent a victory of the Republican incumbent. Another reason for that is that Kansas is known as a Republican state because its Senate seats have not been taken by a Democratic candidate since the late 1930s. According to the critics and media, the Democratic Party had hoped that its voters would support the independent candidate Orman who was also supported by some moderate Republicans and would therefore have had a better chance of winning. Moreover, they assumed that after his victory, Orman would caucus with the Democrats in the Senate. The Secretary of State did not accept Taylor’s drop out letter and did not want to erase Taylor’s name from the ballot on Election Day. For this reason, he contacted the Supreme Court in Kansas which decided that his name has to be taken off from the ballot which was implemented.
The third candidate whose name could be found on the ballot on Election Day was Libertarian Randall Batson. Before he ran for this Senate seat, he had been a candidate in the 2010 and 2012 race for the Kansas House of Representative for two different districts of the state but had lost both of them. Batson highlights alternatives to abortion such as adoption and is pro guns. He wants to help legal immigrants to be granted citizenship and wants to stop the deployment of American troops in foreign countries3.
Description and Outcome of the Race
Whereas the polls in August predicted an at least 8% margin victory for Republican incumbent Roberts, the results of the polls rapidly changed in September when Democrat Taylor withdrew from the race. Orman gained on Roberts and some polls by Public Policy Polling, SurveyUSA, and Rasmussen Reports even predicted that Orman will unseat incumbent Roberts4. Despite that, all polls, which were conducted, showed that the Kansas Senate race will be a very close and interesting head to head matchup without Libertarian candidate Batson, who has not been declared as a possible winner.
This is the reason why media paid particular interest in the race as it normally does to races in one of the American battleground states: ”campaign ads made up nearly half of commercial time”5 in TV. Most of these ads were placed and paid by Political action committees. Orman was, for instance, supported by the super PAC The Committee To Elect an Independent Senate with almost $900,000. The super PAC Freedom Partners Action Fund paid almost §3.5 million to support Roberts’ campaign. The Center for Responsive Politics also published numbers according to which pro-Roberts groups spent more than $10 million for his campaign whereas Orman was supported with more than $6 million. With regard to the money spent in this campaign, it was a historical race in Kansas because more than $30 million has never been invested in a state campaign6.
The election took place on November 4th. Voters had to register until October 14th. The Republican incumbent Roberts won the race with 53.3%7 of the vote against Independent Orman’s 42.5%. The margin was 10.8% and therefore much higher than the polls had indicated it. Libertarian candidate Batson was also defeated and got only 4.2% of the votes. Almost 875000 people, 42.8%8 of the voting-eligible population of Kansas, cast a ballot on Election Day. This percentage slightly mirrors the typical turnout rates in American midterm elections which are always about 10% lower than the turnout in presidential elections9.
Factors Contributing to the Outcome of the Race
Of course there are a lot of different reasons which influence a voter’s election decision. To allow an in-depth analysis, only a few key factors, which could have played an important role for the election outcome, are examined in this paper.
One reason for the defeat of Independent Orman and Libertarian Batson could have been their roles as nonmembers of the two biggest American parties and the corresponding problems. Kansas is known as a reliably Republican state which has only had Republican senators in the last 75 years. According to political scientist like Maisel and Brewer10, the partisanship of voters plays an important role when making an election decision. They stated in their book that because of America’s two party system and party polarization more and more people tend to vote for the same party over and over again instead of voting for a personality or a particular issue. In their opinion, campaigns often cannot change this party line voting which could have been one factor for the victory of the Republican candidate Roberts in Kansas.
Moreover, Roberts was the incumbent in Kansas and voters have had eight years to gain experiences with his policies. Fridkin and Kenney11, for instance, stated that the voter’s retrospective and experiences influence their vote decision which also leads to a high number of incumbents’ re-elections. Another point which is connected to that is that Roberts long incumbency led to name recognition which “can increase candidate support”12 according to the study of Kem and Zechmeister. Despite that, other political scientist like Thomas Holbrook13 found evidence that suggests campaigns matter in a race because they inform voters and even convince some of them to take a ballot for a particular party on Election Day. Furthermore, he mentions that campaigns are even more likely to matter when the election is on congressional level. The Kansas Senate race, however, was not a race about issues and the candidates did not clearly express their opinions which could have discouraged voters to turn out. Gillespie and King-Meadows14, however, point out that it is important especially for third party candidates to motivate as many of the past nonvoters, among them a high percentage of minorities, as possible to turn out because they could be the deciding factor for a victory.
The data collected in America’s midterm elections, however, showed that 40%15 of the nonvoters in the American 2014 midterms were African Americans, Hispanic people, and other ethnic minorities. Only 22% of these groups turned out on November 4th. This gave the Republican Party preference because most of these groups are known for being likely to vote Democratic and would probably have supported the Independent candidate. Therefore Gillespie and King-Meadows claim that “high black [and minority] turnout in states with small black [and other ethnic] populations could play a key role in determining outcomes”16. According to the American political journalism organization Politico17 which is used as research base of some of America’s most famous newspapers, almost 22% of Kansas’ citizens, about 637,000 people, are African American, American Indian, Asian, or Hispanic. Data, however, shows that only a small number of these minority groups turned out on Election Day. This implicates that the Independent and Libertarian candidates were not able to motivate them to cast a ballot or to show them the importance of their votes although political scientist pointed out that these people could decide the election. The voter restrictions in Kansas could have also influenced the low turnout rates of these groups.
Another factor for the outcome of the race is that this race was not mainly about different issues or programs but more about the candidates and their traits. Although Roberts has been the Republican incumbent for three terms before the election, a Public Policy Poll showed in 2013 that he is still more anonymous than other senators with a shorter or similar period of office. Whereas “31% of voters approve[d] of him, 28% disapprove[d], and 41% [did not even] have an opinion either way”18. This anonymity is unusual for long-time incumbents. This position in Kansas’ society was also used as Roberts’ weak point by his opponents in the race.
One of Milton Wolf’s campaign workers, for instance, said that Roberts „showed […] how out of touch with Kansas he is, and […] how far he is willing to go to show ties to the state he left behind over a half-century ago”19. With that, he also mentioned that Roberts does not even own a residence in Kansas anymore. Instead he lives in Virginia with his family and works in Washington D.C. This could have led to the fact that some citizens who have actually voted reliably Republican up to this election renounced following Republican party lines. The data from the poll after the publication of this fact in the New York Times definitely hint at it20. The citizens’ approval for him had decreased from 28% to 44%. In the same poll, 61% of the citizens stated that in their opinion Roberts does not spend enough time in their state. Furthermore, 50% of them claimed that they think that Roberts considers his home Washington D.C. and not Kansas. These high numbers show that some of his Republican adherents also think that he should be more in touch with the state.
1 Pat Roberts, Roberts for Senate, http://www.robertsforsenate.com/index.cfm/where-i-stand (accessed November 12, 2014).
2 Greg Orman, Orman for Senate, http://www.ormanforsenate.com/kansas_secretary_of_state_certifies_ballot_petition_signatures_qualifies_independent_greg_orman_for_november_ballot (accessed November 14, 2014).
3 Randall Batson, Batson 4 Senate, http://batson4senate.weebly.com/issues.html (accessed November 14,2014).
4 Scott Elliott, Election Projection : Kansas Senate Election, http://www.electionprojection.com/2014-elections/kansas-senate-election.php (accessed November 15, 2014).
5 Elahe Izadi, “Dodging attack ads in Kansas, “ The Washington Post, October 31, 2014.
6 Dave Helling and Steve Kraske, “Sen. Pat Roberts Survives , Defeating Challenge from Greg Orman,” The Kansas City Star, November 4, 2014.
7 The Secretary of State, 2014 Kansas General Election Results, http://www.kssos.org/ent/kssos_ent.html#0010(accessed November 15, 2014).
8 Dr. Michael McDonald, United States Elections Project, http://www.electproject.org/2014g (accessedNovember 16, 2014).
9 Drew Desilver, The Pew Research Center, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/07/24/voter-turnout-always-drops-off-for-midterm-elections-but-why/ (accessed November 20, 2014)
10 Sandy Maisel and Mark Brewer, “Voting and Other Forms of Political Participation,” in: Parties and Elections in America: The Electoral Process (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2012), 61-101.
11 Kim Fridkin and Patrick J. Kenney, “The Role of Candidate Traits in Campaigns,” The Journal of Politics 73(2011), 61-73.
12 Cindy Kam and Elizabeth Zechmeister, “Name Recognition and Candidate Support,” in: American Journal of Political Science 57 (2013), 983.
13 Thomas Holbrook, „Do Campaigns Really Matter?”(2011), 1-25.
14 Andra Gillespie and Tyson King-Meadows, “Black Turnout & The 2014 Midterms,” in: Joint Center for Politicaland Economic Studies (2014), 1-18.
15 Lindsey Cook, “Midterm Turnout Down in 2014,” U.S. News & World Report, November 5, 2014.
16 Andra Gillespie and Tyson King-Meadows, “Black Turnout & The 2014 Midterms,” in: Joint Center for Politicaland Economic Studies (2014), 6.
17 Politico: Election Central, http://www.politico.com/2014-election/results/kansas/#.VHNgkMmOTrh (accessedNovember 23, 2014).
18 Tom Jensen, Public Policy Polling, http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/2011/PPP_Release_KS_0227.pdf(accessed November 16, 2014).
19 Seth McLaughlin, “Kansas Sen. Roberts’ Attack Ad Questions Opponent Wolf’s Trustworthiness,” The Washington Times, July 7, 2014.
20 Tom Jensen, Public Policy Polling, http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/pdf/2014/PPP_Release_KS_916513.pdf (accessed November 16, 2014).
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