Kansas independent Greg Orman's quest to unseat three-term incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts is gaining steam, according to a surprising new NBC News/Marist poll, which shows Orman with a 10-point lead and a 2-to-1 advantage with independent voters.
Orman hasn't said which party he would caucus with if elected, meaning his choice could decide if the Senate majority swings back to the Republicans or stays with the Democrats, who have been in control since 2006. Amidst a national backdrop that looks increasingly favorable for the Republicans, Orman has emerged as an unexpected ray of hope for Democrats, who need all the help they can get.
Orman's long road to national political stardom began at Princeton, where he was a College Republican. He graduated in 1992, a year ahead of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who announced Monday he will be gassing up this week for a bus tour to support Roberts, his endangered GOP colleague.
By 2007, Orman became disillusioned with the Bush administration. He switched parties and briefly dabbled in Democratic politics, even running for this very Senate seat in 2008 (he dropped out before the primary.) Since then, he's bounced between the big parties, voting for President Barack Obama in 2008, then Mitt Romney in 2012.
Throughout all this, Orman has consistently made money, although he can't be pinned to any particular industry. Politico offered a taste of his "diverse" portfolio.
[He] has become spectacularly wealthy over the course of a two-decade-plus career that includes investments in ventures as far flung as energy-efficient lighting, spinal surgery screws and an obscure Jeff Goldblum film. Any successful investor is bound to have some failures, but Orman appears to have more wins than losses, creating several successful companies along the way.
With friends and business associates across the political spectrum, Orman has raised cash at a remarkable clip. But with Republican establishment cavalry now coming to Roberts' aid, he is likely to dip into his personal holdings, which are substantial. Politico reports he "holds assets in 43 companies," including a "private equity firm, Denali Partners, [that invests] in mid-sized firms," adding up to "personal fortune of $21.5 million.
Orman's biggest boost of this campaign came when Democrats decided to pull their candidate, Chad Taylor, out of the race, fearing he would split votes with Orman, and clear the way for a Roberts romp. Republicans immediately accused Orman and the Democrats of a "corrupt bargain," and unsuccessfully challenged Taylor's withdrawal in court.
There's no evidence of a deal between Orman and the Democrats, but a victory gives the party a shot at what was once thought a safe Republican seat. If elected, expect the independent to meet with both sides and weigh their appeals.
Now, just four weeks out from Election Day, the most important race for Democrats hoping to keep their Senate majority might not even have a Democrat on the ballot.