OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — The image some conservatives have of Greg Orman, the wealthy businessman running as an independent against veteran Republican Sen. Pat Roberts here in Kansas, is that Orman is, in the words of a recent Weekly Standard story, a "vacuous cipher."
Watching Orman's performance in a recent debate with Roberts before a business group in this large suburb of Kansas City, it's safe to say that image is wrong, or at least incomplete.
Calling Orman a cipher suggests he has no positions, or nothing to say. But on some important topics, Orman outlined policies in more detail than Roberts. Some of Orman's views, although certainly not all, would fit comfortably within the range of Republican orthodoxy.
For many Republicans, the real problem is not that Orman is a cipher. It's the suspicion that his entire campaign is a ruse.
Yes, Orman can be slippery on some big issues. What would he do about Obamacare? Nobody really knows, except that Orman would not repeal the health care law. He's been unclear about the Keystone pipeline, and fuzzy on immigration, too.
But on some other important issues, Orman has taken a clear stand. For example, at the debate, Orman proposed doing the following: 1) Relax Dodd-Frank restrictions on community and regional banks. 2) Review all government regulation every decade to rescind regulations that inhibit business growth. 3) Lower the corporate tax rate. 4) Lower overall tax rates. 5) Raise the Social Security eligibility age for younger Americans. 6) Cut the abuse of Social Security disability payments.
It's all the kind of thing one often hears from Republican candidates.
Orman also seems to have some ideas that go beyond most in the GOP. At one point in the debate, he was asked for his plan to shore up the dwindling Highway Trust Fund. Orman suggested the government might start by cutting social welfare spending.
"There are lots of areas in our budget that we can look at and find dollars," he said. "I've talked a lot in this campaign about how I think we have a new American paradox, how I believe it's harder than ever for the average American to get ahead, and yet paradoxically easier to do nothing with your life. And so I think we need to look at some of the programs that we have that we're giving to people, that aren't promoting pathways to work, and see if we can't find dollars to make investments that we need to make in things like transportation."
If a Republican said something like that, Democrats would attack him for wanting to take food out of poor children's mouths. Yet when Orman says it, Democrats remain silent.
Which leads to the suspicion that the Orman campaign is a fraud. Republicans have long been skeptical about Orman's "No Labels" style, but that skepticism went through the roof on Sept. 3, when, at the very last moment it was legally possible, Kansas Democrats forced their own candidate, Chad Taylor, to withdraw from the Senate race. Taylor had been polling third, and his departure gave Orman a clean one-on-one shot at defeating Roberts.
Then there is Orman's own political history. He ran briefly against Roberts as a Democrat in 2008, but now says he is neither Democrat nor Republican. But he has made campaign contributions to Democrats over the years, among them Barack Obama, Harry Reid, Hillary Clinton, and Al Franken. At the debate, Orman noted just one Republican to whom he has given — Scott Brown, briefly the GOP senator from Massachusetts.
Later this week, there will be a fundraiser in New York for Orman, sponsored in part by big-money Democratic donors like Jonathan Soros, Joe Gleberman, John Petry, and others. Put it all together, and Orman seems to be the candidate that Democrats really, really want to win the Senate race in Kansas.
But what about all those positions that could fit under the Republican banner? It's probably safe to say that after all that has come out in this campaign — the last-minute Democratic pullout, the Democratic support, Orman's own history — most Republicans simply don't believe Orman when he lays out positions that they might otherwise support.
There's no doubt many in the GOP were unhappy with Roberts, believing the 78-year-old senator had "gone Washington" to the expense of the folks back home. But now they confront a race between Roberts and Orman, and, if recent polls are correct, they appear to be coming back to Roberts. They are naturally conservative in this deep-red state, and they just don't trust the alternative.