With less than 24 hours to go before Kansans decides what is inarguably one of the most intriguing U.S. Senate races of 2014, signs are growing strong that independent hopeful Greg Orman is fast running out of steam in his effort to unseat Republican Sen. Pat Roberts.
Whether it's his last-minute remark suggesting Kansas's much-loved Bob Dole was a "clown" or Republicans rallying over fear that the insurgent candidate will vote with Democrats to organize the Senate if elected, millionaire businessman Orman could well go the way of the last major independent candidate in the Sunflower State: Dr. John Brinkley, famed for transplanting the sex glands of goats into males, who came in a strong third in a nationally watched three-way race for governor in 1932.
For weeks, polls showed Orman leading Roberts by 2 to 4 percentage points statewide in a race in which the Democratic nominee removed himself from the ballot. But according to a CBS-TV/New York Times/YouGov poll completed Saturday, the embattled incumbent is now edging Orman by a margin of 38 percent to 37 percent among likely voters.
In addition, the Fox News poll, which had Orman up by 4 percentage points a week ago, now shows him leading Roberts by only 1 percentage point in results released Oct. 31.
Most observers agree that Orman was badly hurt last week by his quip that a caravan of visiting Republican campaigners for Roberts was akin to "a Washington establishment clown car" in which "every day a new person comes out of that car."
Roberts' campaign quickly remonstrated that Orman was referring to Dole, 91 and in a wheelchair, who stumped the state for his former Senate colleague over the weekend. Branding the "clown" comment "slimy," Roberts' campaign demanded an apology.
"I don't think I've ever been called a 'clown' before," Dole himself shot back.
On Sunday, Dole said he received an email apology from Orman and, according to the 1996 Republican presidential nominee, "[h]e said he hadn't meant to refer to me or my record, which he said he has a lot of respect for." (Orman later released a copy of the email to Fox News and insisted it was not an apology but an opportunity to express his longstanding admiration for Dole.)
Although Orman has long insisted he might caucus with either party in the Senate depending on which he feels will help Kansas, even Republicans who opposed Roberts in the primary fear Orman will surely side with the Democrats. Orman has contributed money to President Obama and other Democrats, and recently declared himself pro-choice on abortion.
Accordingly, numerous tea party groups and Sarah Palin, both of whom backed Roberts' primary opponent, have now weighed in with the Republican senator. Moreover, such conservative favorites as Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence joined more moderate fixtures as Dole and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to stump for Roberts this weekend.
In many ways, the last-minute rallying to save Roberts and stop Orman is reminiscent of that to stop "goat gland doctor" and independent hopeful John Brinkley from becoming governor in 1932.
Brinkley had his medical license suspended over his controversial (but popular) operations that transplanted goat testicles into humans to allegedly cure male impotence. Like Orman this year, Brinkley drew nationwide attention running as an independent and drew huge crowds in urban and rural areas alike. He campaigned from his private plane named "The Romancer," in a 16-cylinder Cadillac, and a huge motor truck with a speaker's platform.
Brinkley's platform was populist. He promised free textbooks for public schoolchildren, a massive public works program to stimulate the Depression-wracked economy, lower taxes, and pensions for senior citizens. As governor, Brinkley vowed transparency: He would report every day at noon on how state legislators behaved the previous night.
Many prominent Kansans feared that Brinkley, if governor, would be able to appoint the state medical board and restore his medial license. At the close of the campaign, William Allen White of the Emporia (Kansas) Gazette warned voters that Brinkleyism menaces Kansas, and to support Republican Alf Landon.
"Until two weeks ago, it seemed likely that Brinkley had a walkaway in the governorship race," reported The Chicago Tribune on Nov. 3, "Now he is given second place and even third place. The altered statues of the three candidates is due, according to observers, to the awakening of party allegiance due to the spirited fight between the candidates for president."
Brinkley drew more than 244,000 votes, but came in third with 30.57 percent. Democratic Gov. Harry Woodring garnered 34.11 percent and was narrowly edged out by Republican Landon (34.82 percent). Landon went on to become the 1936 GOP nominee for president, and his daughter, Nancy Kassebaum, later held the U.S. Senate seat now being contested by Orman.
Orman is not in a three-way contest as Brinkley was 82 years ago, and in many ways he is the de facto Democratic nominee. But Orman's fate may well be the same as the "goat gland doctor" in the closing days of the 2014 race.
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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