Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Kansas Debate: Did Roberts Stick 'Liberal Democrat' Label on Independent Orman?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Kansas Debate: Did Roberts Stick 'Liberal Democrat' Label on Independent Orman?

Article excerpt

In a number of hot Senate races, Republicans are casting the election as a referendum on President Obama. In Kansas, the question is whether that strategy can succeed against a political independent.

In a televised debate Wednesday night, Sen. Pat Roberts (R) repeatedly characterized his opponent as "a liberal Democrat" and said Kansas needs to vote Republican to upend "the Obama-Reid agenda" - a reference to Senate majority leader Harry Reid.

Kansas is one of the nation's pivotal races as Republicans seek a net gain of six seats to take control of the Senate.

Senator Roberts described Greg Orman - who is running as an independent - as a rich office-seeker who has donated money to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, has a "friend, Harry Reid," and is raising money from the likes of liberal financier George Soros and the AFL-CIO.

The election could come down to whether that liberal label sticks, or whether voters view Orman as a kind of swashbuckling iconoclast - someone who will be conservative enough for Kansas while also breaking free of the status-quo partisanship that besets Washington.

In the Wednesday debate, Orman came out of the gate with a blunt message that you don't generally hear from leading candidates for office: That the problem in Washington isn't the other candidate's party, but both political parties.

He called Roberts just "half right" for blaming President Obama and Senator Reid.

Orman's closing statement was an eloquent appeal for fresh blood in Congress to bridge partisan divides and "get back in the business of solving problems."

"Is Washington working?" Orman asked his audience. "If you think that it is, I'm not your guy."

So far, Orman's message is appealing enough to make it a close race. It hasn't helped Roberts that many Kansans think the senator is more attached to Washington than to his home state.

An average of five recent polls, tracked by the website RealClearPolitics, shows the two candidates precisely tied among likely voters, with about three weeks of campaigning to go.

In the debate, Roberts criticized Orman on issues ranging from farm policy to immigration. …

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