Dave Helling: Independent candidate Greg Orman dreams big in Kansas race for U.S. Senate

07/07/2014 4:05 PM

07/07/2014 10:21 PM

Greg Orman, like Don Quixote, dreams an impossible dream.

He’s running for a Kansas U.S. Senate seat. He’s expected to start airing TV ads promoting his candidacy this week.

But Orman, an Olathe businessman, isn’t running as a Democrat or Republican, or as a representative of a political party. Instead, he’s running as an independent.

“Washington’s broken, and everybody knows it,” he explains.

Orman’s first task is relatively easy. He has to get 5,000 valid petition signatures from registered Kansas voters by Aug. 4, the day before the primary. If the signatures are verified, he would have a place on the Nov. 4 ballot, along with a Democrat, a Republican and a Libertarian.

Then the campaign gets a lot harder.

Independent candidates such as Orman usually face enormously long odds. Raising money is difficult. Media exposure is challenging. Because they lack built-in party identification, independents forfeit party-based help in getting voters to the polls.

Even geography can be a hurdle. Orman would have to campaign across a state with vast open spaces, driving long distances to introduce himself to voters who have never heard of him. By contrast, the two independent senators now in Washington — Angus King and Bernie Sanders — come from Maine and Vermont, respectively, states that are much smaller than Kansas.

And, by the way, both King and Sanders had significant prior political experience.

Of course, with time and a lot of money, these practical problems can be addressed. In fact, Orman’s fundraising has been surprisingly strong.

His more fundamental difficulty, though, is finding ground to campaign on.

That’s much tougher than it sounds. Typically, independent candidates are neither fish nor fowl — they are for small government, except when they aren’t; against higher taxes, maybe; lower spending, sometimes; in favor of a tough foreign policy, in some cases.

Most voters prefer major-party certainty.

So the independent’s only argument is usually dysfunction: Vote for me, he or she will say, not because you agree with me on the issues but because Democrats and Republicans simply can’t get anything done.

That’s Orman’s message. “What we’ve been doing isn’t working,” he says.

Most of the time, voters aren’t interested in such process arguments. This year, though, they may take a different view, mostly because Congress is about as popular as a swarm of mosquitoes.

If so, Orman’s candidacy would still be quixotic, but slightly less impossible. And, therefore, not entirely a dream.

To reach Dave Helling, call 816-234-4656 or send email to dhelling@kcstar.com.

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