04/13/2017

In First Election Test Since Trump's Win, Republican Defeats Democrat In Kansas

Leo Lutz, Independent Journal Review

In the first political litmus test since Donald Trump took the White House in November, Republican Ron Estes defeated Democratic challenger James Thompson in the special election in Kansas's 4th congressional district.

The election came down to the wire on Tuesday night as Estes defeated Thompson 53.3 to 45.0 percent with almost all ballots counted. Libertarian Chris Rockhold was also on the ballot and took 1.7 percent of the vote.

Estes, the sitting state treasurer, had a much stronger name identification going into the race than Thompson, who is a U.S. Army veteran and attorney in the south central Kansas congressional district. However, in the days leading up to the election, the Republican establishment was doing everything possible to pull him over the finish line.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) sent fundraising emails on Estes's behalf. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) visited the district and campaigned with him. Even President Donald Trump tweeted his support and sent a robocall urging Republicans to get out the vote.

The big issue in the race is that it was even competitive in the first place. Kansas's 4th district is typically not an area where Democrats hold a competitive chance. Former Congressman Mike Pompeo, who vacated the seat in 2017 to run the CIA under the Trump administration, won the congressional seat in 2016 with 61% of the vote. Also in 2016, Trump won the district by 27 points.

How then were Democrats able to come so close to upsetting the GOP? First and foremost, this was a special election, which tends to have significantly lower turnout than traditionally scheduled races. Second, the state's Republican governor, Sam Brownback, is highly unpopular in the state and Thompson campaigned hard on a anti-Brownback narrative. Finally, Democratic voters across the nation are extremely motivated to “resist” all things tied to Donald Trump, including candidates with the same party affiliation.

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