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Democratic nominee Chad Taylor drops out of Kansas Senate race

Chad Taylor, Kansas Democrats' nominee for the U.S. Senate, sent a letter to the Kansas secretary of state, withdrawing from the race Wednesday. (AP Photo/John Hanna, File)

This post has been updated

Democratic nominee Chad Taylor dropped out of the race for U.S. Senate in Kansas on Wednesday, an 11th hour move that could clear the way for his party to rally behind an independent candidate and potentially change the math in the battle for the Senate majority.

Taylor, who raised little money and had not gained traction in the campaign, submitted a letter to the Kansas secretary of state's office that said he was withdrawing from the contest, without providing any further information. E-mails and calls to his campaign seeking more information on why he bowed out were not immediately returned.

The move, which came on the last day for ballot changes, could clear the way for Democrats to rally behind Greg Orman, an independent candidate who has left the door open to caucusing with both parties if elected. Orman, who used to be a Democrat and a Republican, has been viewed as a more viable opponent against Sen. Pat Roberts (R), who polls show is vulnerable. Orman has been a far more productive fundraiser than Taylor.

Republicans need to gain six seats to win the majority. Kansas has not been viewed as one of the races factoring into the battle for control of the chamber. But Taylor's decision could move it into that mix.

Taylor, the Shawnee County district attorney, was in touch with at least one prominent Democrat in the days leading up to his decision. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) spoke with Taylor about dropping out of the race in order to consolidate support behind Orman in hopes of unseating Roberts, according to Democrats familiar with the talks.

"She thinks very highly of him and thinks he has a bright political future," one source said in an e-mail. "And she knows these decisions are both hard and personal."

But the Democrat, who asked for anonymity to speak frankly about the discussions, declined to go into detail about what exactly McCaskill had discussed with Taylor.

In an interview with The Washington Post last week, Orman would not say which party he would caucus with if elected. He suggested that he would side with whichever party is in the majority and would consider joining both sides if he ends up being the deciding vote.

“This is certainly an unexpected turn of events. Chad Taylor is a committed public servant. He ran an honorable campaign and worked hard, and I wish him and his family well," said Orman in a statement reacting to Taylor ending his campaign.

There had been speculation in recent days that national Democrats would try to coax Taylor to step aside to clear the way for Orman. The thinking went that Roberts would be more beatable in a one-on-one matchup as opposed to a three-way race in which the anti-Roberts vote would likely be splintered.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesmen did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In a statement, Roberts campaign manager Leroy Towns accused Democrats of meddling.

"Chad Taylor’s withdrawal from the U.S. Senate race reveals a corrupt bargain between Greg Orman and national Democrats including Senator Harry Reid that disenfranchises Kansas Democrats," said Towns. "It makes clear what has been obvious from the start: Orman is the choice of liberal Democrats and he can no longer hide behind an independent smokescreen."

But Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.), denied that his boss had anything to do with the developments.

"I can say flat out that Senator Reid had absolutely nothing to do with this," Jentleson said in an e-mail. Responding to accusations from the Roberts campaign, Jentleson said: "Senator Roberts is either lying or confused or both."

Taylor's thinking remained shrouded in mystery late Wednesday. "Thanks to our supporters - financial, spiritual and emotional," he tweeted, offering no immediate explanation for his decision.

Roberts, who is coming off a bruising primary, has struggled with lagging popularity. He was repeatedly attacked by a tea party challenger for paying rent to supporters to stay with them when he is in the state, instead of living in his own home.

According to state law, it is up to the state Democratic Party to decide how or if they will replace Taylor with another candidate. An e-mail to a state party spokesperson seeking comment was not immediately returned.

Taylor's decision marks the second time this week a Democrat has stepped aside and given an independent a clearer shot against a GOP incumbent. The Democratic gubernatorial nominee in Alaska, Byron Mallott, ended that bid Tuesday to join the ticket of independent Bill Walker, who is looking to unseat Republican Gov. Sean Parnell.