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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas must remove the name of the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate from the ballot, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a decision that could hinder three-term Sen. Pat Roberts' re-election in November and hurt Republicans hoping to win a Senate majority.
The court's unanimous decision means Roberts could be left with one major opponent, independent Greg Orman. Democrats believe Orman has a better shot at defeating the 78-year-old than their own former candidate, Chad Taylor.
Republicans need a net gain of six seats to take the Senate majority from Democrats, and Kansas is one of about a dozen races nationally that could determine the outcome. Recent opinion polls suggested Roberts may be vulnerable in a head-to-head race with Orman, a 45-year-old Olathe businessman and co-founder of a private equity firm.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican and strong Roberts supporter, had refused to remove Taylor's name from the ballot, saying the Democrat's formal letter didn't comply with a law limiting withdrawals. The Supreme Court concluded that it did, even though Taylor didn't spell out his reasons for exiting the race — something Kobach said was required.
Kobach said afterward that state law still obligates Democrats to pick a new nominee. Kobach set a noon Sept. 26 deadline, citing a law that says party committees "shall" fill candidacy vacancies. He pushed back the deadline for printing ballots a week, to later that same day.
"At this point, I am assuming that the Democrat Party will comply with the law," Kobach said at a news conference.
The court specifically avoided answering the question of whether Democrats must pick a new nominee. Within minutes of its ruling, an attorney for David Orel, a disgruntled Democratic voter from Kansas City, Kansas — whose son works on GOP Gov. Sam Brownback's re-election campaign — filed a new petition with the high court to force Democrats to name a candidate.
State Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon did not immediately return telephone messages Thursday evening, but she's said previously that the party doesn't expect to pick a new nominee.
And Pedro Irigonegaray, a Topeka attorney representing Taylor, said Kobach is "absolutely wrong" about Democrats being required to name a new nominee.
"I would suggest that Mr. Kobach pay attention to the duties of his office and stop wasting state money on a political effort going nowhere," he said.
The disputes over Taylor's withdrawal are tangled in partisan politics. Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill was among the Democrats pushing out Taylor, the 40-year-old Topeka-area district attorney. Both Kobach and Brownback serve on Roberts' honorary campaign committee.
Taylor sent a letter to Kobach on Sept. 3, the last day possible, saying he wanted his name removed from the ballot "pursuant to" a law allowing nominees to withdraw if they declare they'd be incapable of serving in office. Taylor has never explained his reasons, and Kobach had said Taylor was required to at least say specifically in writing that he's incapable.
But the Supreme Court said the citation represented a declaration.
Kansas Supreme Court site for Taylor-Kobach dispute: http://bit.ly/1BHgcrY
Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .
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