The balance of power in the Senate could end up hinging on an election in an unlikely state: Kansas, where left-of-center independent Greg Orman is leading the polls against incumbent Republican Pat Roberts.
The Democrats are the defensive, in real danger of losing their majority. Orman could be an unlikely savior; an independent from the reddest of red states — Kansas hasn’t voted for a Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson in 1964 — who could potentially caucus with the Democrats.
Here’s what you need to know about the candidate who could swing the Senate.
1. If He Wins, He’ll Be 1 of Only 3 Independents in the Senate
Orman is running as an independent, and would be one of only three independents in the Senate if he wins. (The other two are Angus King of Maine and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, both of whom caucus with the Democrats).
As an independent, he will have to decide what party to caucus with, and though he was once aligned with the Democratic Party, he has not said which party he will choose.
He has made clear that he will make his decision based on what he thinks is best for Kansas, and has also said that he will not support either Harry Reid or Mitch McConnell for Majority Leader, citing their history of partisanship.
When it comes time to support a candidate for Majority Leader, I’ ll encourage both parties to select a leader who has a demonstrated track record of working across the aisle as one indicator of his or her willingness to solve problems. I ‘ll also look at responsible leaders from both sides like Democrat Heidi Heitkamp and Republican Lisa Murkowski who are willing to cross party lines to vote for what is right.
Both Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell have been too partisan for far too long to earn my vote for Majority Leader.
2. The Democratic Candidate in the Race Dropped Out
The Democratic candidate in the race, Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor, dropped out of the race in early September.
Taylor’s withdrawal left Orman as the only challenger to Roberts, significantly increasing Orman’s chance of winning in a one-on-one showdown.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican who’s on Roberts’ honorary election campaign committee, claimed that Taylor had not used the correct language in his withdrawal, and therefore would be on the ballot.
But after a legal struggle, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled on September 18 that Taylor’s name could be removed from the ballot.
With Taylor out of the race, a recent Public Policy Polling poll showed Orman leading Roberts 46 percent to 36 percent with 17 percent unsure. The FiveThirtyEight Senate forecast gives Orman a 60 percent chance of winning.
3. His Wife Was Born & Raised in Kansas
Orman is married to Sybil Orman, former teacher in Kansas City and phD candidate in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at the University of Kansas. They live in Olathe, where Sybil has lived all her life, with their two dogs. Sybil said in an interview with KSHB Kansas City:
“I went to school here; I went to Olathe North. I went to K-State for a period of time. I went to KU. I’m back at KU. I’ve taught in Kansas, and I really want to do this”.
4. One of His Major Donors Is Serving a Prison Sentence for Insider Trading
Gupta has been a major donor to Orman’s campaigns in the past, and Orman was on a list of defense witnesses at Gupta’s trial as his financial advisor, according to a 2012 article by Bloomberg. Kansas.com reports that he said of his connection with Gupta:
I have a very, very small investment that still is consistent with that. And when my financial reports come out, I think you’ll see that it’s an under $50,000 investment. So it’s a very small, very modest (investment), but again I’m someone who believes in forgiveness and redemption. I’m not someone who when a friend makes a mistake I just throw them away.
Financial records released by his campaign show that his assets total between $21.5 million and $86 million and his income is between $917,000 and $4.5 million. Candidates are required only to disclose which of certain ranges their various assets and incomes fall within, but even at the minimum values, his income and assets would place him within the top 10 Senators in net worth.
Orman has investments in several companies. He joined business consulting firm McKinsey and Co. after graduating college in 1991, and started his company Environmental Lighting Concepts while there. He sold the company in 1996 to Kansas City Power & Light, and is now involved with various companies, including Kansas-based Combat Brands and Denali Partners, LLC, which he co-founded in 2004 and which works to provide capital and management services for small businesses.
5. He Went to Princeton
Orman grew up in Minnesota, the son of Darlene, a nurse, and Tim, who owned a furniture store in Stanley, Kansas where Greg worked as a teenager.
Orman attended Princeton University, where he majored in Economics. As the Cook Political Report’s Amy Walter points out on Twitter, his college yearbook reflects broadly similar views to the ones he espouses now as a candidate, showing he was a member of the Model Congress and the College Republicans and with quotes from Ross Perot and Albert Einstein.
He moved back to Kansas in 1996 as his business interests moved to Kansas City.