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By Kurtis Lee, Los Angeles Times

In a blow to Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, the Kansas Supreme Court on Thursday struck the name of a Democrat from the November ballot, pitting the embattled incumbent against a well-funded and surging independent.

Democrat Chad Taylor, a district attorney from the Topeka area, exited the race earlier this month in a move that elevated independent businessman Greg Orman. Despite Taylor’s effort to remove his name from the ballot, the state’s Republican secretary of state, Kris Kobach, declined the request on technical grounds.

Taylor’s attorney argued earlier this week that the Democrat complied with the law when he quit the Senate race, citing language Taylor used in a letter announcing his withdrawal.

Democrats accused Kobach of playing partisan politics, hoping to weaken Orman’s challenge by keeping Taylor’s name on the ballot and potentially splitting the anti-Roberts votes.

Roberts struggled through a difficult primary against a Tea Party challenger and has suffered from perceptions he had grown detached from the state after more than 30 years in Washington.

In a press conference this week, Kobach told reporters state law allows him the right to appoint a replacement for the Democrat, though he did not say if he would do so.

Ballots are set to be printed and mailed to overseas voters in the coming days.

As control of the Senate hangs in the balance this fall, national Democrats and Republicans have focused on Kansas, a strongly Republican state, as an improbable battleground. Republicans stand a good chance of capturing the six seats needed to take control of the Senate, but a loss in Kansas would complicate their efforts.

Roberts is not alone in his tough re-election fight.

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, who has faced GOP defections over his aggressively conservative agenda — including tax cuts that have badly strained state finances — faces a stiff challenge from Democratic state Rep. Paul Davis.

“This is huge for Democrats, absolutely huge. It changes the dynamic of the race,” said Ken Ciboski, a political science professor at Wichita State University.

Ciboski added, “Kansas is certainly playing on the national level now.”

Photo: J. Stephen Conn via Flickr

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