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Republicans have 'whiplash' over ruling in Kansas Senate race

By Dana Bash, CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent
updated 6:29 PM EDT, Thu September 4, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Kansas secretary of state rules Democrat must stay on ballot even though he dropped out
  • GOP feared with no Democrat, an independent could beat incumbent Pat Roberts
  • Independent Orman is running on a libertarian platform, which could take votes from Roberts

Washington (CNN) -- Republicans in Washington say they are breathing a sigh of relief now that the Kansas secretary of state has ruled that the Democratic Senate candidate will stay on the ballot in November even though he dropped out.

It's a case of political whiplash for national Republicans, who just hours earlier scrambled to send strategists to Kansas when it suddenly became a head-to-head race between incumbent Republican Pat Roberts and an independent candidate with libertarian views, who would likely pull GOP votes from Roberts.

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The matchup appeared to make it harder for the GOP to seize the Senate majority.

Now a GOP strategist tells CNN that Republicans believe keeping Democrat Chad Taylor on the ballot is "enormous" because he was only getting 30% of the vote when he was actively campaigning. Republicans predict the Democrat will still get about 10-25% of the vote on Election Day, making it easier for Roberts to beat independent candidate Greg Orman.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which works to get Republicans elected to the Senate, was already dispatching veteran GOP strategist Chris LaCivita to Kansas, a GOP source tells CNN.

The source called it just the first move to try to help bolster Roberts' campaign, which national Republicans worry is lackluster and ill-equipped to run an unexpectedly competitive campaign.

Republicans had also enlisted help from former Sen. Bob Dole, the longtime senator from Kansas and a former Senate majority leader, who was already scheduled in the state this week. A source close to Dole tells CNN he is playing the role as "super consultant" to Roberts, an old friend.

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Republicans were moving fast because of the national importance of the race in the GOP quest to regain control of the Senate in November. The GOP has to pick up six seats to take over the Senate. Their advantage has been that they are only playing defense in two states: Kentucky and Georgia. Adding Kansas to the list has many implications, most immediately with money.

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Republican resources are already spread thin because there are so many neck-and-neck races where they are spending campaign cash -- mostly where they are playing offense trying to pick up Democratic seats everywhere from Louisiana to Alaska to North Carolina and New Hampshire and beyond.

When Roberts narrowly won a GOP primary race earlier this year, Republicans thought he would have relatively smooth sailing towards re-election. Kansas is so conservative, it has only been represented by Republican senators for three quarters of a century.

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But then Orman began to climb in the polls. The three-way race was already making things tougher for Roberts, but on Wednesday night, Taylor abruptly withdrew, paving the way for a head to head matchup between Roberts and Orman, an independent running on a libertarian platform.

Republican strategists tell CNN they had to drag Roberts over the finish line for his GOP primary race, and they hope he understands that he has to work harder than before to win re-election.

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