Republicans retain House seat in Kansas special election to replace Mike Pompeo

Republicans retain House seat in Kansas special election to replace Mike Pompeo
In a close race for Kansas’ 4th congressional district seat, Republican Ron Estes defeated Democrat James Thompson. The vacancy opened after Mike Pompeo was confirmed as the head of the CIA under President Donald Trump.

With 94 percent of precincts reporting, Estes carried 52 percent of the vote, compared to Thompson's 46.3 percent, according to the Associated Press. During the 2016 presidential election, Trump won the district by 27 points, but Democrats had hoped to swing the district in their favor after Trump’s approval rating fell.

Thompson grabbed an early lead in the race, but Estes quickly closed the gap. By 9:45pm EST, Estes had won seven counties, while Thompson still maintained the lead. By 10:00pm, Estes pulled ahead of Thompson, who only retained control over Sedgwick County, home of the Kansas’ largest city, Wichita.

Pompeo won the district by more than 30 points in the 2016 election.

There are four House seats held by Republicans up for special elections this year. In order to regain control of the House, Democrats would need to gain 24 seat by the 2018 midterm election.

Trump himself got involved, as Republicans faced an unexpectedly strong challenge for the House of Representatives seat.

Republicans ran State Treasurer Ron Estes, but internal polls show him barely ahead of Democrat James Thompson, the Kansas City Star reported.

“I’ve heard people whose opinions I respect tell me they think it would be single digits,” Clay Barker, the executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, told the paper.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) stumped for Estes in Wichita on Monday, while Vice-President Mike Pence and even Trump himself recorded calls to Republican voters in the district, urging them to turn out and vote.

“Ron Estes needs your vote, and needs it badly,” the president says in the message. “This is an important election. There's really few very much more important. And I need your vote for Ron Estes on Tuesday.”

Some Republicans are blaming the “no energy” way Estes campaigned, while others are critical of the TV ad showing him standing in a swamp and asking voters to help him drain it, according to the Star. The ad echoed Trump’s campaign promise to change the government in Washington.

Democrats have used the imagery against Estes, depicting the two-term state treasurer as a career politician and “swamp creature” of Republican Governor Sam Brownback, shown in their counter-ad as an alligator.

Thompson is leveraging his past as a US Army veteran who went homeless as a child and became a civil rights attorney.

“I think that really excites people to have someone who has fought on behalf of the rights of the disenfranchised and abused,” says Djuan Wash, a Black Lives Matter activist and the campaign’s director of African-American outreach.

“It’s definitely competitive. You can look at the early vote numbers. We’re neck and neck,” Thompson’s campaign manager Colin Curtis told the Star. “You don’t sound the alarm if you think you’re safe,” he added, referring to the robocalls by Trump and Pence and the appearance by Cruz.

As of Monday morning, Republicans led the early vote by less than 3,000, with about 3,400 ballots from unaffiliated voters that could tip the balance either way.

The GOP will face another test next Tuesday in Georgia, where Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff has raised more than $8 million in a bid to win the 6th District seat previously held by Tom Price, now Trump’s secretary of health and human services.

Democrats would need to pick up 24 seats to get a majority in the House of Representatives.