Bob Dole Returns to Save Kansas for Jittery GOP

The 91-year-old heads back to Kansas now that an old friend needs him most.

September 19, 2014, 10:35 AM
PHOTO: Cody Christensen, with the Dole Institute, shakes hands with Bob Dole at the KU booth in the Meadowlark Building at the Kansas State Fair, Sept. 7, 2014, in Hutchinson, Kan.
Cody Christensen, with the Dole Institute, shakes hands with Bob Dole at the KU booth in the Meadowlark Building at the Kansas State Fair, Sept. 7, 2014, in Hutchinson, Kan.
Lindsey Bauman/The Hutchinson News/AP Photo

— -- It has been a rough two-and-a-half weeks for Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, a three-term Republican facing his toughest fight for re-election since arriving in Washington in 1981.

Roberts, who survived a Republican primary challenge, now finds himself unexpectedly locked in an even more competitive general election fight.

But even as he pushes back against criticism that he has been in Washington too long, Roberts is doubling down on his longevity. He’s set to get a helping hand from a golden name in Kansas politics: Bob Dole.

“The battleground for control of the Senate is now Kansas,” Dole, 91, told ABC News. “I think Roberts is going to win.”

Sen. Pat Roberts Beats Back Primary Challenge from Obama Cousin

Court Ruling Won't End Kansas Senate Dispute

Kansas Court: Remove Democrat From Senate Ballot

Dole, once a staple of the state and national political scene who served as Senate majority leader and lost to Bill Clinton in a 1996 presidential run, will be campaigning for both Roberts and Gov. Sam Brownback going into the midterm elections.

Dole set the record as the longest-serving Republican leader in Congress before he retired in 1996, and is wrapping up a “thank-you” tour that he said will have brought him to every one of Kansas’ 105 counties by the end of October.

Dole, who's special counsel at the law firm of Alston & Bird in Washington, D.C., said he will also be shooting a commercial for Roberts, and will meet him on the campaign trail starting with an event in Dodge City Monday.

Roberts, 78, has recently had to shake off criticism of his time spent in Washington and residency in Alexandria, Virginia.

In his first debate with Independent candidate Greg Orman, Roberts dismissed that he was losing ties with Kansas, saying, “I’m from Dodge City and I’m damn proud of it.”

Businessman Orman, 45, has emerged in the race as a serious threat in a state that has sent only Republicans to the U.S. Senate since 1938.

He has attacked Roberts for moving further to the right, especially in the wake of a tough primary fight Roberts faced in August against a Tea Party opponent.

Dole defended Roberts, saying he thinks Roberts is "flexible" in his political views.

"I think he has been a little more conservative because of his primary," Dole said. "I've worked with Pat a lot, and I think he's demonstrated that he is moderate and largely in line with Kansas voters."

Dole isn't the only former presidential candidate to have added his voice to the Roberts campaign. Mitt Romney recorded a robocall that made its way around the state last week.

But if Republicans seem extra nervous, it’s because losing Roberts’ seat could mean the difference between the GOP taking back control of the Senate, if Orman chooses to caucus with Democrats.

And a Supreme Court decision Thursday didn’t do much to put their worries to rest.

An Uphill Battle

The Democratic candidate, Chad Taylor, announced his withdrawal from the race Sept. 3, but Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach came forward one day later saying Taylor hadn’t made the appropriate case for his name to be removed.

The case came to the state’s Supreme Court, which unanimously ruled in favor of Taylor. Kobach said he would give the state’s Democratic Party a week to name a new candidate and would not be sending overseas ballots like the state originally scheduled for Friday, according to The Associated Press. If they refuse, Kobach said he would review legal options.

Without a Democrat on the ballot to potentially split the vote, some Republicans fear Roberts could be facing an uphill battle. Republicans have since resorted to painting Orman as a donkey in sheep’s clothing.

In a statement released after the decision, Roberts’ campaign manager Corry Bliss accused Democrats of trying to unfairly manipulate the race.

"This is not only a travesty to Kansas voters, but it’s a travesty to the judicial system and our electoral process," Bliss said.

And Dole is chiming in, too.

“The guy is a Democrat masquerading as an Independent," Dole told ABC News. "He registered to run as a Democrat in 2007.”

Orman has said he is a moderate and doesn’t know which party he would caucus with, but he has also said he supports neither Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid nor Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

But Dole said Kansans shouldn’t buy it.

“Someone said to me that Orman said he wanted to be a politician like Bob Dole,” Dole said. “I’m Bob Dole, and I can tell you that Greg Orman is not Bob Dole.”

Orman’s campaign could not be reached after repeated requests for comment.

In a statement to ABC News, Roberts said he was honored to have the support of “Kansas’ favorite son.”

“His endorsement and trust in me to stand up for Kansas conservative values against a liberal administration means a lot to me,” Roberts said. “But means even more to Kansans who have always placed their trust in Bob."

Dole hasn't exactly had a perfect relationship with Republicans in recent years.

In May of 2013, he openly criticized the Tea Party movement on Fox News Sunday, saying Republicans should hang a “closed for repairs” sign on their doors.

In an interview with ABC News in July, Dole said he disagreed with Roberts and another fellow Kansan Sen. Jerry Moran when both helped vote down an international treaty for people with disabilities.

Dole, who watched the vote from the Senate floor in his wheelchair, said he understood both were under pressure from homeschooling parents who viewed the treaty as a threat to U.S. sovereignty.

But with Kansas politics now in the national spotlight, Dole is returning to the limelight for an old friend.

“I’ve worked with Pat a lot and he helped me a lot in the past,” Dole said. “People think it’s a problem because Kansas is seen as a state that everyone counted as safe. I think it’s a plus that Republicans are coming in.”

UPDATE: According to a press release out Friday from Sen. Roberts' campaign, Sen. John McCain will also join Roberts on the campaign trail for two events on Wednesday and Thursday. Dole will attend three town hall events with Roberts on Monday and Tuesday.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events