A new NBC News/Marist Poll released on Sunday shows that independent Greg Orman leads incumbent Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) by 10 points, 48% to 38% among likely voters in the Kansas U.S. Senate race. 5% backed Libertarian Randall Botson, while 9% were undecided. The poll includes “those who are undecided yet leaning toward a candidate.”
Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, Director of The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, told the Kansas City Star on Sunday that, based on his analysis Roberts is “in a great deal of trouble out there. He’s got high negatives, his intensity of support is low, he’s losing independents by more than two to one. His to-do list is rather large in the remaining time before Election Day.”
The poll was conducted between September 27 and October 1 of 636 likely Kansas voters, and has a 3.9% margin of error.
A poll released by Suffolk University/USA Today last week showed Orman leading Roberts by 5 points, 46% to 41%. The Suffolk Poll was more precise in its language, asking respondents “for whom will you vote or lean toward?” and showed 11% of voters still undecided. Like the NBC/Marist Poll, the Suffolk Poll was conducted between September 27 and September 30, though its sample size of 500 likely Kansas voters was smaller. It has a 4.4% margin of error.
A breakdown of the NBC News/Marist Poll by party affiliation showed Democrats are almost unanimous in their support for Orman. 77% of Democrats said they supported Orman, while only 8% supported Roberts. Republicans were slightly less emphatic in their support for Roberts. 74% supported Roberts while 16% crossed over to support Orman.
Orman also has a significant advantage among Independents. 57% backed Orman while only 27% supported Roberts.
While leading Tea Party activists in the state remain embittered against Roberts for the heavy handed tactics he used to defeat Tea Party endorsed radiologist Milton Wolf in the closer than expected August 5 Republican primary, the 23% of likely Kansas voters who self-identify as Tea Party supporters overwhelmingly back Roberts over Orman by a 70% to 17% margin, according to the NBC/Marist Poll.
The poll identified 28% of likely voters as Democrats, 45% as Republicans and 26% as Independents.
Orman has held a lead over Roberts for the past six weeks in every poll since a PPP poll in mid-August poll showed Orman ahead of Roberts by 10 points. Subsequent efforts by the Republican establishment to salvage Roberts’ campaign appear to have had little impact on voter attitudes towards his contest with Orman.
On September 4, over a month ago, the National Republican Senatorial Committee brought in Washington based political consultant Chris LaCivita and new campaign manager Corry Bliss to help with the Roberts campaign.
On September 25, Sarah Palin, who has endorsed Roberts, appeared with him at a campaign rally in Kansas, but that appearance seems to have done little to change negative attitudes among Tea Party activists towards him.
The continued strength of Orman in what most thought was a reliably Republican state is the biggest surprise so far of the 2014 election cycle. The last time Kansas elected a U.S. Senator who was not a member of the Republican Party was in 1932 when Democrat George McGill won a single Senate term, carried to victory on the coat tails of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s landslide Presidential victory over Herbert Hoover.
In 2012, Kansas voted overwhelmingly for Mitt Romney, giving him a 60% to 38% victory over Barack Obama.
The 45-year-old Orman, a former McKinsey consultant and wealthy businessman whose net worth is estimated at between $20 million and $78 million, has benefited from a “perfect storm” of Republican political miscues and an unlikely set of twists and turns.
Though the 78-year-old Roberts is a strong opponent of amnesty and has a reliably conservative voting record (Heritage Action Scorecard rates him the third most conservative member of the Senate in the current session of Congress), charges that he does not reside in Kansas, is too old for the job, and is out of touch with every day Kansans have wounded his candidacy and increased his negative ratings among voters.
Damaged by the primary attacks, Roberts was further hurt when the Democratic nominee, Chad Taylor, withdrew and the Kansas State Supreme Court confirmed that his request to be removed from the ballot should be honored.
That leaves Roberts in a two man race with Orman, and, as the new polls indicates, many Kansans think Roberts has been in Washington too long and that Orman offers a fresh face for a change.
Both the NBC/Marist Poll and the Suffolk Poll show that more Kansas voters have an unfavorable view of Roberts than have a favorable view of him. In the NBC/Marist Poll 37% of likely voters viewed him favorably while 47% viewed him unfavorably. In the Suffolk Poll, 39% of likely voters viewed him favorably, while 47% viewed him unfavorably.
Both polls showed Orman with similar favorable ratings, but markedly lower unfavorable ratings. In the NBC/Marist Poll 46% of likely voters viewed him favorably while 26% viewed him unfavorably. In the Suffolk Poll, 39% of likely voters viewed him favorably, while 25% viewed him unfavorably.
Though Roberts’ conservative voting record is closely aligned with the Republican heritage of the state, and Orman has been evasive about his positions on most issues, including the all-important question of who he would vote for to be the Senate Majority Leader should he be elected, Orman’s more liberal policy positions have not yet taken a toll on his popularity.
Orman, who is capable of self-funding his race, has campaigned against Roberts primarily on the theme that he is a “pragmatic” problem solver not bound by ideology. Roberts, in contrast, has run a heavily media oriented campaign that has attempted to paint Orman as a liberal Democrat who will vote for Harry Reid as Senate Majority Leader and support President Obama’s agenda.
While Orman generates enthusiasm through his youth and vigor, his vague responses combined with his Democratic Party past (he ran briefly against Roberts as a Democrat in 2008), leaves many would-be voters wary, and therefore persuadable.
There was some good news in the new NBC/Marist Poll for Roberts, which found that “[o]nly 43% of likely voters statewide with a candidate preference for U.S. Senate strongly support their choice. 40% are somewhat committed to their pick, and 14% might vote differently.”
The Marist College Institute for Public Opinion’s Miringoff noted that “[f]ewer than half of likely voters are firmly committed to their choice, and nearly one in ten is still undecided.”
The challenge for the Roberts campaign is to drive up Orman’s negatives and peal away independent voters while turning out enough traditionally Republican voters on election day to overcome Orman’s attractiveness to the voters as a fresh face.
Part of that strategy appears to already be in place with a series of television ads that paint Orman as a pro-Obama, pro-amnesty, Harry Reid-supporting Democratic liberal.
Turning out the vote for a candidate who has very low intensity support, on the other hand, may be a more difficult tactic to put in place.
The Hill for instance, reported last week that a meeting between several local Tea Party activists and junior level staffers with the Roberts campaign yielded no concrete results.
In addition, the GOP’s Victory 365 ground game project, which was geared up originally to focus on ten key swing states that did not include Kansas, appears not to have been deployed in Kansas yet. This apparent inattention to the ground game is somewhat mystifying, since it was an effective last minute ground game in Johnson County during the Republican primary that helped sealed Roberts’ victory over Wolf.
But a review of Federal Election commission reports shows that, as of August 31, more than two weeks after polls indicated Orman was in the lead, the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee had not given any money to the Kansas Republican Party, according to Federal Election Commission records. During all of 2014, the Republican National Committee gave the Kansas Republican Party less than $16,000, with the last contribution coming more than a month before the August 5 primary.
It remains unclear if Roberts’ current strategy will be sufficient to overcome the ten point deficit in the month between now and election day.