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GOP official in Kansas looks to force Democrats to field Senate nominee, however court rules

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TOPEKA, Kansas — The Republican serving as Kansas' top elections official won't give up on forcing Democrats to field a U.S. Senate candidate even if the state Supreme Court orders the current nominee to be removed from the ballot, in a dispute that could affect which party controls the Senate.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Tuesday that state law requires Democratic leaders to pick a new candidate if Chad Taylor is removed from the ballot. Taylor stopped campaigning earlier this month and sent a letter of withdrawal to Kobach's office. Kobach refused to remove Taylor from the Nov. 4 ballot, and the Democrat went to the Supreme Court.

Some Democrats pushed Taylor to drop out of the race against three-term Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, seeing independent candidate Greg Orman as the stronger rival for Roberts. They hoped to avoid splitting the anti-Roberts vote and hinder the GOP's effort to gain six seats and a new Senate majority.

Several Kansas Supreme Court justices expressed skepticism during a hearing Tuesday toward Kobach's argument that Taylor's letter wasn't sufficient to get his name off the ballot under a state law limiting when party nominees can withdraw. Kobach serves on Roberts' honorary campaign committee, but says he's merely enforcing the law.

Kobach told reporters afterward that another state law requires parties to fill candidate vacancies, and if he's ordered to remove Taylor from the ballot, he'll direct the Democratic Party to pick a replacement. If the party won't, he's ready to file a petition with the Supreme Court to force the issue.

"I'm trying to enforce the terms of the law, and the terms of the law say, 'shall,'" Kobach said. "They don't say may nominate or put a replacement on, they say shall."

The court is expected to rule on Taylor's petition quickly. Kobach has said counties must print ballots by Friday because state and federal laws require them to start mailing ballots to military personnel overseas Saturday.

PHOTO: Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach talks to the media after the Kansas Supreme Court heard a petition by Democrat Chad Taylor to remove his name from the ballot after he withdrew from the U.S. Senate race Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014, in Topeka, Kan. Kobach, a Republican, ruled that Taylor's name must remain on the ballot because he didn't comply with state election law. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach talks to the media after the Kansas Supreme Court heard a petition by Democrat Chad Taylor to remove his name from the ballot after he withdrew from the U.S. Senate race Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014, in Topeka, Kan. Kobach, a Republican, ruled that Taylor's name must remain on the ballot because he didn't comply with state election law. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

The justices didn't touch on what happens after Taylor's name is removed from the ballot, and attorneys didn't raise the issue during Tuesday's hearing. State Democratic Party Chairman Joan Wagnon said she doesn't expect it to name a new candidate within days of ballots being printed.

"I just don't see how it's physically possible," she said.

Roberts, 78, looked vulnerable after a tough GOP primary race. Orman, a 45-year-old Olathe businessman and co-founder of a private equity firm, raised more in contributions and was more visible on television than Taylor, 40, the Topeka-area district attorney.

The state law at the center of Taylor's dispute with Kobach says nominees' names can be removed from the ballot if they die or declare they're incapable of fulfilling the duties of office. Taylor's letter said he wanted to withdraw "pursuant to" the law, but he has not given a reason why he can't serve. Taylor attended the hearing but refused to comment.


Online:

Kansas Supreme Court site for Taylor-Kobach dispute: http://bit.ly/1BHgcrY


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PHOTO: Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach talks to the media after the Kansas Supreme Court heard a petition by Democrat Chad Taylor to remove his name from the ballot after he withdrew from the U.S. Senate race Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014, in Topeka, Kan. Kobach, a Republican, ruled that Taylor's name must remain on the ballot because he didn't comply with state election law. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
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