Here's something no election analyst would have said two months ago: the toughest U.S. Senate seat for Republicans to hold in the Nov. 4 election is in Kansas.
Independent business man Greg Orman now leads incumbent GOP Sen. Pat Roberts by an impressive margin of 48 percent to 38 percent, according to a Marist poll conducted from Sept. 27 to Oct. 1 and released today. Roberts's vulnerability was underscored in the August primary, which he won with an unimpressive plurality after fumbling questions about his residence and ties in Kansas.
“Kansas voters are facing an unusual and unexpected matchup in what has become a pivotal race for control of the U.S. Senate,” Lee Miringoff, who directs Marist's public opinion institute, said in a statement.
A big question for Orman: can he withstand a barrage of attacks levied by Roberts and his Republican allies trying to portray Orman as a Democrat in disguise? Republicans have pointed to Orman's past campaign contributions to Democrats including President Barack Obama, who won 38 percent of the vote in Kansas in the 2012 election.
"This is someone who is pretending to be an Independent to try to overcome the problems that a Democrat would have running for the United States Senate from our state," Sen. Jerry Moran, who holds Kansas's other Senate seat and also leads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said on C-Span's Newsmakers program airing this weekend.
Orman, who has also donated to Republicans, has said that he would caucus with the party holding a majority of seats after the elections. That may not be known for some time after Nov. 4: a December runoff is likely in Louisiana, a January runoff is possible in Georgia, and it could take weeks to determine a winner in vast Alaska if the race is as close as polls suggest.
In North Carolina, meanwhile, Marist gives Democratic incumbent Kay Kagan a 44 percent to 40 percent lead over Republican Thom Tillis, the state House Speaker. Hagan seems to have moved out to a small but steady lead.
And in Iowa, it's basically a tie, with the Marist poll pegging Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst at 46 percent and Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley at 44 percent. Democrat Tom Harkin is retiring, so an Ernst victory would count as a net seat gain toward the six that Republicans need to overturn the Democrats' 55-45 majority.