By Kevin Murphy
KANSAS CITY Kan. (Reuters) - Kansas election officials said on Thursday that a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate cannot withdraw from the race as he intended, a ruling that could be good news for the Republican incumbent as well as Republican efforts to take control of the U.S. Senate.
Democrat Chad Taylor on Wednesday pulled out of the race without explanation, which if allowed could swing a significant number of votes to independent candidate Greg Orman, who is seeking to unseat Republican U.S. Senator Pat Roberts.
Orman has been thought to have stronger support in the conservative state than Taylor. Having both Orman and Taylor on the ballot would split the vote for Roberts' opponents.
Taylor's letter of withdrawal was not enough to remove him from the ballot, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican, told a news conference.
Taylor also needed to file a declaration by the Wednesday deadline stating that he would be incapable of fulfilling the duties of office if elected, Kobach said.
Kobach said the decision was announced after consultation with office legal staff, adding that partisan politics played no part. The ruling could be challenged in court, he said.
"This has nothing to do with the party, the law is the law," Kobach said.
Taylor, who is Shawnee County's district attorney, said in a statement he had consulted Kobach's office on the wording of his withdrawal letter and considered his candidacy terminated as of Wednesday.
Earlier on Thursday, Kansas Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon thanked Taylor for his candidacy.
"It is clear that Kansans are ready for new leadership," Wagnon said. "We will be monitoring this race closely."
Leroy Towns, executive campaign manager for Roberts, said Orman was clearly the Democrats' choice and cannot be called an independent candidate. Taylor's withdrawal "reveals a corrupt bargain" between Orman and national Democrats, he said.
Republicans need to hold 51 seats to take control of the U.S. Senate and Roberts had been counted on as safely holding his seat after winning his party's primary, said University of Kansas political science professor Burdett Loomis.
Loomis said Roberts, 78, has come under pressure as being too conservative and for having spent nearly all of his adult life in Washington.
Orman, a businessman, was a Republican until about 15 years ago, then supported Democrats and considered running for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat in 2008 before becoming an independent, according to Orman's website.
(Reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City; Editing by David Bailey and Will Dunham)