By LISA MASCARO
WASHINGTON -- The topsy-turvy race for the Senate in Kansas took another turn Wednesday when the lackluster Democratic candidate dropped out, elevating an independent newcomer to battle incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts this fall.
The sudden narrowing of what had been a three-way race could give Democrats a rare pickup opportunity in conservative Kansas during an election cycle that favors Republicans. The GOP is increasingly favored to net six seats to gain control of the Senate.
"There's obviously an opportunity here," said a Democratic strategist, who asked for anonymity to frankly discuss the situation. "Roberts is clearly very vulnerable."
Democrat Chad Taylor, a two-term district attorney from the county that includes Topeka, had run a lackluster campaign with little funding and less backing from national Democrats.
"Thanks to our supporters -- financial, spiritual and emotional," Taylor said in a Twitter message late Wednesday.
His decision to step aside opens the race to Greg Orman, a management consultant. As a young man, Orman was a fan of H. Ross Perot, who ran a strong presidential campaign as an independent in 1992, but more recently he talked with Kansas Democrats about making a run against Roberts in 2007. He has spent some of his own money on the campaign.
The move in Kansas represents the second time this week a Democrat in a three-person race has deferred to an independent candidate to try to unseat a Republican incumbent.
On Tuesday in Alaska, Democrat Byron Mallott agreed to drop his campaign and run for lieutenant governor on a ticket with Bill Walker, an independent. The two agreed joining forces was the only way to defeat Republican Gov. Sean Parnell, Mallott said.
"I could see no way forward to win in a three-way race," he said.
Seeking a fourth term in Kansas, Roberts has struggled against criticism he has become out of touch with voters, particularly after it was reported he no longer owns a home in the state but rents a room from a supporter.
Roberts last month fended off a primary challenge from Milton Wolf, a doctor and tea party-backed conservative, who had his own troubles after it was disclosed he posted X-ray photos to his Facebook page.
Roberts' campaign manager, Leroy Towns, called Taylor's withdrawal from the race a "corrupt bargain" with national Democrats to push Orman -- who he said is not an independent -- but "a liberal Democrat by experience and by philosophy."
Democrats nationally have not supported any candidate in the race.