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Here's a Dirty Election Trick That Kansas Democrats Could Play on Pat Roberts

Kris Kobach/FacebooPete Marovich/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ever since Democrat Chad Taylor dropped out of the Senate race in Kansas two weeks ago, Republicans (and incumbent Senator Pat Roberts) have rested their hopes of holding the seat on the possibility that thousands of Democrats would vote for Taylor anyhow, wasting their ballots, instead of voting for the independent, Greg Orman, who leads incumbent Pat Roberts in several polls.

Now that those specific hopes have been dashed, Republicans want to run the same basic play, by forcing Democrats to select a new Senate candidate before the end of this week. They should proceed with caution—because a crucial fact about the Kansas Senate race may be that Pat Roberts is approximately the most common name in all of America.

As my colleague John Judis explained here, the Kansas Supreme Court has ordered Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the vote-suppression innovator, to remove Taylor from the Senate ballot, touching off a head-to-head contest between Roberts and Orman.

The Court’s decision probably means Republicans are out of screwballs, and will just have to try to get their guy elected the old fashioned way. But Kobach and the Kansas GOP will probably try to force Dems to replace Taylor’s name with a different name, just five weeks before the election. Enter “Pat Roberts.”

I joked about this on Twitter a couple weeks ago, and now life is imitating middle-brow snark.

There are many, many Pat Robertses in Kansas. Presumably at least one of them is a Democrat. And if Kobach insists on stacking the ballot with a quasi-fictional candidate, simply to split the non-Roberts vote, I don’t see why Dems couldn’t screw him right back by picking a candidate named Pat Roberts and confusing a bunch of elderly Republicans into voting Democrat.

That’s not to say they should—and it's obviously very unlikely they will. My tweets are famously non-influential among Kansas Democrats. But it suggests a simple thought experiment, which should make Republicans rethink their broader strategy of trying to win elections by suppressing Democratic votes. When the Kansas race went haywire, I argued that Kobach’s initial ploy was akin to voter suppression. If there’s a solid moral case for tricking people with plain intentions into voting for the wrong candidate, I haven’t thought of it. By the same token I don’t think Democrats would get away with the "Pat Roberts" scam completely clean, simply because Kobach would end up hoist by his own petard.

Of course, if Dems were to dig up some schmo named Pat Roberts, Kobach would be outraged. He’d call it dirty tricks, and rightly so. But this is exactly how he’s trying to win the same election, and how Republicans elsewhere are trying to win other contests—by perverting the intent of the Democratic electorate. If they think that’s all in the game, they should have no problem with Democrats nominating Pat Roberts to run for Senate in Kansas.