WICHITA, Kan. — A House seat vacated by CIA director Mike Pompeo will remain in GOP hands after Kansas state treasurer Ron Estes pulled off a closer-than-expected win in Tuesday’s special election here in the 4th congressional district.
Estes carried 52 percent of the vote when the Associated Press called the race with 88 percent of precincts reporting. His opponent, James Thompson, a Wichita civil rights attorney who has never run for public office, collected 46 percent of the votes.
That’s a far smaller margin of victory than the one enjoyed Pompeo and Donald Trump here in the 4th district in November. Pompeo won re-election by 31 points; Trump thumped Hillary Clinton by 27.
But Thompson, an Army veteran, made it a contest for several reasons. Estes ran what most observers say was a lethargic campaign, far less energetic than Thompson’s efficient grassroots effort.
Estes, 60, was also dragged down by his close association with Kansas’ wildly unpopular governor, Sam Brownback. A former U.S. senator and one-time presidential hopeful, Brownback has a 27 percent approval rating in the Sunflower State.
The race began generating serious national buzz last week as internal polling showed the contest was neck-and-neck. The Kansas City Star reported that one poll circulating among Republicans showed that Thompson was within a single point of Estes, who was elected treasurer in 2010 and re-elected in 2014.
Estes was forced to call in back up this week in the form of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Trump, and Vice President Mike Pence. Cruz appeared on the stump with Estes here on Monday. Trump and Pence lent their voices to robo calls that went out the voters in the area, and Trump said on Twitter on Tuesday that he needed Estes’ support in the House in order to pass a health care bill and tax reform. (RELATED: Trump Throws Heft Into Kansas Special Election)
The National Republican Congressional Committee also spent $100,000 on ads in the days before the vote.
Despite the seat remaining in the Red column, Democrats will be thrilled with Tuesday’s outcome. Operatives at the national level will point to Thompson’s strong showing as evidence that Trump is unpopular and that the 2018 mid-term elections will go well for Democrats.
But though Thompson’s showing provides a moral victory, Democrats have to wonder if more could have been done to pull off a complete win. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee stayed out of the race until Monday when it began making calls to tens of thousands of voters. The Democratic National Committee also declined to help out.
“We can make progress in Kansas,” DNC chairman Tom Perez told The Washington Post last week when asked about the decision to sit on the sidelines of the race. “There are thousands of elections every year, though. Can we invest in all of them? That would require a major increase in funds.”
Most of Thompson’s financial backing came from a fundraising effort put together by Daily Kos, the left-wing website. More than $200,000 was raised in the fundraiser.