Democratic nominee Chad Taylor dropped out of the U.S. Senate race in Kansas this week, but in quite the interesting twist, the Kansas Secretary of State says his name cannot be removed from the ballot.
That might not be the final word, but for now it's the reality, and it creates a rather unusual set of circumstances. Independent Greg Orman is something of a de facto Democratic nominee (even as he hasn't picked a side), but Taylor's name will remain on the ballot with that all-important "D" next to it -- a "D" that will lead some folks who might or might not know that he dropped out of the race to vote for him on Nov. 4. And that will hurt Orman.
But just how many votes would the non-candidate Taylor steal from Orman? Recent history actually provides us some pretty good insights.
There are many examples in recent years of independents or third-party candidates effectively taking over for marginalized major-party nominees. In 2012, now-Sen. Angus King (I) was the de facto Democratic nominee in Maine. In 2010, independents in three governor's races and one Senate race effectively overtook a major-party nominee, leaving those nominees with relatively little support. And then there was the 2006 Connecticut Senate race, in which Sen. Joe Lieberman, after losing the Democratic primary, ran as an independent with lots of Republican support. The GOP nominee took less than 10 percent of the overall vote.
But how does that 10 percent showing compare to other marginalized major-party nominees? Below, we look at how these nominees fared in relation to the major-party duds they faced.
Only one race on this chart, though, featured a major-party candidate who dropped out but remained on the ballot. And that is the 2009 special election for New York's 23rd congressional district. Moderate/liberal Republican nominee Dede Scozzafava withdrew from the race after conservatives rallied behind Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman. She endorsed the Democrat, now-Rep. Bill Owens, but she remained on the ballot.
Despite having ended her campaign five days before voters headed to the polls, Scozzafava took 5.7 percent of the vote.
Which seems to be a reasonable goalpost for judging how much support Taylor will get. But it's not perfect. After all, Taylor will have been out of the race for much longer than Scozzafava, which could conceivably increase or decrease his vote share. We're also talking about Kansas here; the universe of voters who reflexively vote for Democrats in ruby-red Kansas is likely smaller than the universe that reflexively votes for Republicans in upstate New York. And lastly, New York was a special election, which carries with it all kinds of caveats.
But as the chart above shows, even the most marginalized nominees -- which we would argue were in the 2010 Colorado governor's race (Republican Dan Maes) and the Lieberman race (Republican Alan Schlesinger) -- when they were still campaigning, barely cracked double digits.
Which means Taylor will be hard-pressed to get out of the single digits -- if not the low-to-mid single digits. That might seem somewhat heartening for Orman, but those are also votes that are coming almost exclusively at his expense, which will make defeating Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) that much more difficult.