U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts brought a fellow Republican to Kansas on Wednesday to argue that his opponent is a stealth Democrat.
John McCain, the longtime U.S. senator from Arizona, joined Roberts in claiming that independent candidate Greg Orman is a Democrat who won’t admit it.
“We all know what he is. Let’s be honest. He’s a Democrat,” McCain said at Johnson County Republican headquarters. “He walks like a duck and he quacks like a duck, and he is a duck.”
Orman insists he is an independent, and that forms the core of his campaign. In choosing Senate leadership, he has said he will vote with whatever party holds the majority.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
But if the Senate has 50 Republicans and 49 Democrats, the wealthy investor from Olathe could swing control to either party. (Vice President Joe Biden could break a tie for the Democrats.)
Declaring now what he’d do in that scenario, his campaign says, would make him just another partisan and undercut any leverage bargaining on issues he deems important if he became the tiebreaker.
That’s a dodge, the Republicans said at a campaign event Wednesday in Overland Park.
“Tell us who you’re with. Tell us who you’re for. Tell us who you’re going to caucus with,” said McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee. “Shouldn’t the people of Kansas have a right to know that?”
The Orman campaign said the candidate has “consistently given a clear answer.”
If neither party holds a majority, campaign manager Jim Jonas said in a statement, Orman will caucus with whichever party “will embrace an agenda focused on solving problems.”
McCain and Roberts looked to cast the contest as one for control of Congress. Republicans are expected to retain power in the U.S. House. Most oddsmakers also predict they will wrest the Senate majority away from Democrats, but that figures to be close.
But Roberts has trailed Orman in recent polls. Taking control of the Senate would be dramatically harder if the three-term incumbent, dogged about his decades in Congress and the perception that he doesn’t live in Kansas, isn’t re-elected.
Democrat Chad Taylor has won significant court rulings recently to remove his name from the ballot. That’s widely seen as helpful to Orman, who might otherwise split the anti-Roberts vote with a Democrat.
Orman briefly flirted with a Senate campaign as a Democrat in the 2008 race. He has given campaign donations to both Republicans and Democrats in recent years, although he handed out more to the latter.
His positions on issues such as health care, guns, immigration and other national issues tend to fall toward the middle of the political spectrum. That puts him decidedly to the left of the increasingly conservative Roberts.
The Roberts camp has pushed hard to paint Orman as a Democrat who would back President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
“His positions reflect Harry Reid’s. Mine do not,” Roberts said. “It’s a very simple race.”
McCain is part of a small parade of Republican politicians coming to Kansas to stump for Roberts. Sarah Palin, a one-time Alaska governor and vice presidential nominee, is scheduled to campaign for him Thursday in Independence, Kan. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush comes to Wichita on Monday. Roberts has also appeared across the state with former U.S. senator Bob Dole.