What We Learned From the Kansas Senate Debate

In an election largely free of policy substance, Sen. Pat Roberts and independent challenger Greg Orman gave Kansas something unusual Wednesday night.

Sen. Pat Roberts and businessman Greg Orman met for their second televised debate Wednesday night, shedding some light for Kansas voters on a host of policy issues that have largely been distorted and ignored in a race framed closely around partisan loyalties.

Though Roberts focused in Wednesday on the need for a Republican-controlled Senate, Kansas is one contest in which the upper chamber's majority may not be determined by the outcome on Nov. 4. Orman, who fiercely upheld his claims of independence from both parties during the debate, hasn't said which party he would caucus with if elected, only that he would attempt to stick with the majority.

Orman concluded in his final argument that a vote for Robert was a vote to maintain status quo. Roberts concluded that Orman's attendance at a fundraiser with liberal donor Jonathan Soros Friday night proves his opponent is beholden to a Democratic agenda.

Here are National Journal's key takeaways:

Immigration gets both sides riled up, but policy-wise there's not much separation.

The only real difference between the two men's stances on immigration policy was over the legal status for those already in the country, who neither said they would work to deport. Orman voiced his support for the Senate's 2013 bipartisan immigration bill, which he pointed out many of Robert's recent campaign surrogates voted for. Roberts argued that he didn't believe in giving those who had crossed the border illegally citizen status.

"We're not getting any immigration policy as long as Harry Reid is the leader of the Senate," Roberts declared, before again knocking his opponent as a supporter of "amnesty."

Both candidates agreed on the need to secure the border and that the president should not take executive action to change policy unilaterally.

Orman owns guns, and Roberts doesn't.

Roberts touted his endorsement by the National Rifle Association but said he hadn't owned a gun since his time in the Marines. He looped his support for the Second Amendment in with support for the First Amendment, suggesting Orman's disapproval of the Citizens United decision was proof he couldn't be trusted to uphold the constitution in either capacity. Roberts tried throughout the night to tie his opponent to unpopular parts of the Democratic agenda, but this one was one of his rougher transitions.

Orman said he's a current gun owner who believes all gun owners should go through the same background check he did. He advocated for closing the gun-show loophole, saying it would keep firearms out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.

"Those are people I don't want owning guns," Orman said.

Roberts sounded his strongest talking foreign affairs.

Both men were asked whether the agreed with the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Orman said yes to both, but that the U.S. had been "overly optimistic" about creating a democracy in Afghanistan.

Roberts, a Marine veteran, blamed poor leadership by Obama for "creating a vacuum" in Iraq when he removed troops. He expressed concern for a similar situation in Afghanistan. He disputed the president's assessment that the U.S. is winning a war against ISIS, and grew impassioned about the need to bring these decisions to Congress and the American people. Though Roberts framed the problems as a weakness on the part of President Obama, it's one area where he looked away from Orman in his response and didn't immediately loop the businessman in with the White House.

Orman is pro-choice.

Asked about whether an ultrasound should be required of women seeking an abortion, Orman clarified that he supports abortion rights, though he walked around the issue a bit at first. He said that, as a man, he would never have to face the challenge of such a decision, and that he hoped the country could "get past" abortion to focus on bigger problems.

"Get past this issue? Get past the rights of the unborn?" Roberts fired back. "I don't think you can say that with any degree of conscious." He argued that the Supreme Court's recent Hobby Lobby decision was reason enough to keep the conversation going.

Roberts is very proud of his endorsements.

Despite hearty debates on job creation and farm policy, Roberts claimed that his endorsements by the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Farm Bureau, and other state agriculture groups had ended the argument on who was better qualified to serve the needs of Kansas's major industries. He also name-dropped Right to Life groups and the National Rifle Association as backers, touting his near-perfect records on their voting score cards.

For his part, Orman sounded comfortable talking about agriculture issues, and was his most confident defending his ability to create middle-class jobs. "There a number of chambers in this state that would love to see me elected to the U.S. Senate," he argued. Orman did not, however, mention his recent endorsement by the AFL-CIO.