Updated at 5:34 p.m.

The Kansas Supreme Court issued a big ruling this week, ordering Democrat Chad Taylor off the ballot, a blow to Senate Republicans.

But the outcome of the legal tussle was only one of several big variables in the contest between Sen. Pat Roberts (R) and independent candidate Greg Orman. Here are the five biggest ones to watch the rest of the way:

1. Can Kris Kobach force Democrats to field a replacement candidate?

Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) responded to the court's decision by demanding the state Democratic Party replace Taylor, who dropped out Sept. 3, with someone else. He agreed Friday to send out overseas and military absentee ballots without a Democratic nominee -- but with a disclaimer that a new ballot may be sent out to those voters later. It's not clear whether Kobach can force Democrats to nominate a replacement. A state party spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The question matters because without a Democrat on the ballot, the anti-Roberts vote is expected to more fully coalesce around Orman.

AD
AD

2. Which outside groups will enter the fray?

Kansas was not on the list of contests conservative groups like American Crossroads and Americans for Prosperity worried about defending at the beginning of the 2014 election cycle. But with Roberts looking vulnerable amid lingering worries from the primary that he has lost touch with Kansas, it's possible they will have to ride his rescue. Meanwhile, Democratic groups also have a decision to make. Orman might caucus with Democrats in the Senate, giving groups like Senate Majority PAC something to think about. Then there is the super PAC spotted by Politico that was recently started by a donor to Orman, Gregory T. Wolf. A review of Wolf's donor history shows he has given money to, among others, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who consulted with Taylor before Taylor dropped out. A message left for Wolf seeking more information about his super PAC was not immediately returned.

3. How will Orman hold up in the face of attacks?

AD
AD

Orman has been able to fly below the radar for a few months. But Roberts's campaign recently started attacking him on the air by tying him to President Obama. Orman has polled well against Roberts so far, but will his numbers drop after attacks from the Roberts campaign?

4. Will Roberts make any more missteps?

Roberts has shaken up his campaign staff, bringing in operatives Chris LaCivita and Corry Bliss to try to right the ship. They need to make sure Roberts doesn't make any more big blunders, like when jokingly bragged to the New York Times about having "full access to the recliner" at the home of supporters he stays with when he is in Kansas or when he remarked that he gets home “every time I get an opponent," before quickly correcting himself. Roberts has already fueled a perception he has lost touch with the state. He can't afford stoke those concerns any more between now and Nov. 4. Another gaffe would receive a lot of attention.

AD
AD

5. Will the Libertarian Party candidate factor into the outcome?

Orman and Roberts are the leading candidates, but they aren't the only candidates. Libertarian Randall Batson is also on the ballot. A recent Fox News poll showed him polling at 2 percent, meaning he could make a difference in a very close race. The uncertainties are 1) Who Batson pulls support from more and 2) Whether he can grow his support.

Stay tuned.

AD
AD