OVERLAND PARK, Kan.—In most competitive Senate races on the 2014 map, both parties have been meticulously preparing their field and ground-game operations since the start of the year, putting plans in place so they were ready for the final stretch this fall.
Not so in Kansas, which has in so many ways scrambled the calculus of every other 2014 campaign. Call it the ground-game-in-a-box race: The campaign pits Pat Roberts, the GOP senator who wasn't preparing for a competitive race and has had to pull together an operation almost from scratch this fall, against independent Greg Orman, who found himself under the national spotlight without any sort of party apparatus or infrastructure to back him up.
With polling showing a close contest, both sides acknowledge that turnout operations really could end up tipping the scales. But because of the strange politics of a Republican-versus-independent race, even that is complicated: Nobody knows quite who's going to turn out, whom they'll vote for if they do, or how much that's affected by other races on the ballot.
Kansas is not a state that's generally been known for its top-notch ground-game operations. Political and field talent in the state has been "the equivalent of AA or AAA in baseball—it's minor league. Until now," said Wint Winter, a former GOP state senator who's opposing Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. "The money that's come in on both the Senate race and governor's race [means] campaigns could afford major league talent. Now the level of the ground game and talent is greater than it's ever been."