Republicans survived an election scare on Tuesday and won a Kansas House seat in the first congressional election since President Donald Trump's victory, but the margin was much narrower than expected in a district that had voted overwhelmingly for Trump in November. The special election Tuesday between Democrat James Thompson and Estes to fill the seat vacated by CIA Director Mike Pompeo is being watched across the nation for signs of a backlash against Republicans or waning support from Trump's supporters.
Estes had 52 percent of the vote to Democrat James Thompson's 46 when the Associated Press called the race for Kansas' southern 4th District with 88 percent of precincts reporting. Libertarian candidate Chris Rockhold also drew approximately 2 percent of the vote. Despite the fact voter turnout in non-presidential races typically favors the GOP, they underperformed their 2016 results in every single county, majority by double digits.
If Ossoff wins, or even if he forces the race into a runoff, that could manifest an even bigger drag on Trump's historically low popularity: House Republicans become more resistant to working with their president, which in turn makes Trump's job trying to pass big legislation with his party that much more hard.
Pompeo won the district by more than 30 points in the 2016 election.
But it became obvious in the final few days that the race was going to be shockingly close. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz stumped with Estes in Wichita. Kansas' Republican Gov. Sam Brownback was, until recently, the least popular governor in the country.
Estes, a Republican and the sitting Kansas Treasurer, trailed for much of the early returns but passed Democrat James Thompson late in the night.
No primary will be held, and whoever wins more than 50% of the vote April 18 will take the seat.
Only Sedgwick County showed Thompson ahead of Estes. "Whether in the manufacturing industry or in public office, Ron has always worked to improve efficiency and find savings".
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Following his victory, Estes told supporters that he's ready to put his experience to work in Congress. "And we've shown that this district is not just competitive but that we can win it", Thompson said. For weeks, the president and his allies have been singing from the conservative hymnal on Obamacare (let's repeal and replace it), the size of the federal government (let's shrink it), and taxes (let's cut them).
Furthermore, of the 48 seats in the U.S. Senate that Democrats now control, including the two independents who caucus with Democrats, only 10 of them are from states that Trump won in 2016. A group that formed following Sanders candidacy, Our Revolution, supported Thompson during the campaign through social media and recruited volunteers to make phone calls on his behalf.
Two Republicans strategists familiar with polling data in two of the special election races say the main problem is not that independents and moderate voters have swung en masse to Democrats.
Thompson has already announced he is running for the seat in 2018. "He had some debates that he missed, and I don't think that helped his image", Hutton said. "For a politician to climb into a swamp and look as uncomfortable as possible was a gift for us to be able to use it on mail", he said.
There are four House seats held by Republicans up for special elections this year.
Another race in the suburbs of Atlanta, to replace Republican Tom Price, who's now secretary of Health and Human Services, has become extremely competitive.
But there's a difference between running television advertisements from national Democrats and using the race as an opportunity to build the Kansas Democratic Party.