U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts let it be known again and again while campaigning that he's a Republican — and that a Republican Senate majority was the best way to stand up to President Barack Obama.
The message resonated in Kansas as Roberts won a relatively comfortable re-election Tuesday despite a staunch challenge from independent businessman Greg Orman. His victory, combined with Republican triumphs over Democratic incumbents elsewhere, helped secure a new GOP majority.
"The country was counting on us to help deliver a Republican majority to the Senate, and we delivered," Roberts told a cheering crowd of supporters at a Republican election night party in Topeka.
Roberts received about 53 percent of the vote compared with less than 43 percent for Orman and 4 percent for Libertarian Randall Batson. Although it was Roberts' tightest election of his 18-year Senate career, the margin nonetheless was far larger than public opinion polls had indicated heading into the closing weeks of the election.
Roberts, 78, narrowly survived a tea party challenge in an August GOP primary, then — as it seemed his re-election was all but assured — was thrown a political twist when Democratic nominee Chad Taylor dropped out in September, consolidating the opposition behind Orman. The Olathe businessman asserted Roberts was no longer representing the state well and had instead become a part of the partisan gridlock in Washington.
Orman, 45, told a subdued audience of supporters in Overland Park that he had called Roberts and congratulated him on his victory.
"While Sen. Roberts won tonight, we didn't lose," Orman said. "We not only ran against Sen. Roberts, we ran against the whole Washington establishment."
Roberts had campaigned not so much by stressing his specific accomplishments but by telling voters that his re-election was essential to GOP efforts to wrest control of the chamber from Democrats and provide a legislative check on Obama.
Roberts said he learned a lot during what he acknowledged was tough campaign.
"It was a hard-fought election, and I've heard my marching orders loud and clear," Roberts said. "I will be bold, I will be conservative and I will be constructive. And I promise you this, we will get things done."
With Republicans newly in charge of the chamber, Roberts said he expects to become chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. He pledged in his election night speech to "be a champion for our farmers and ranchers," as well as for U.S. military members.
A Marine veteran and former House Agriculture Committee chairman, Roberts never had gotten less than 60 percent of the vote in his three previous Senate campaigns. But he got just 48 percent of the vote this August while surviving a four-way GOP primary.
The first signs that Roberts faced an unusually tough re-election appeared as a tea party-backed Republican candidate, Milton Wolf, questioned whether Roberts had grown out of touch with Kansas residents during his long tenure in Washington. Among other things, Wolf noted that Roberts owns a home in suburban Washington but lists a rented room in the Dodge City home of one of his supporters as his official Kansas residence.
During the general election campaign, Roberts tried to portray Orman as a liberal Democrat running under the guise of an independent. Orman ran briefly as a Democrat against Roberts in 2007 before dropping out of that race and had contributed to Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.