Republicans fended off a surprising Democratic challenge on Tuesday in the first special election of the year for a House seat vacated by a Republican lawmaker who became part of President Donald Trump's administration. On Election Day, Trump carried the 4th District easily - but Republicans lost three of their party's state House seats.
Despite the very conservative district - where a Democrat has not held a House seat since 1994 - and the last-minute GOP star power, Estes won by only a 53-45 percent margin, with 100 percent of precincts reporting. But in Estes' victory there are warning signs for Republicans preparing for the first midterm election of the Trump presidency in 2018.
Kansas Attorney Gen. Derek Schmidt, who spoke to a Reno County Republican Party gathering in South Hutchinson Tuesday evening, thought the high interest in the 4th District race was due to timing.
The National Republican Congressional Committee spent almost $100,000 at the end of the race for ads that called Thompson "too extreme for Kansas" and accused him of supporting "late-term abortions".
Estes supported Trump in 2016 and backs a number of the president's policies, including repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, defunding Planned Parenthood, and building a wall along the border with Mexico.
"Republicans in the era of Trump have a problem even with Trump voters in the suburbs", said Jesse Ferguson, a former strategist for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, stopped to support Estes in Wichita on Monday. Special elections, political operatives say, are like snowflakes - each taking place in unique circumstances. Former Republican congressman Mike Pompeo won the seat by 31 percentage points in November. Second, the state's Republican governor, Sam Brownback, is highly unpopular in state and Thompson campaigned hard on a anti-Brownback narrative.
After all the fuss, the national pundits and party officials headed to Georgia and other states holding special congressional elections.
Ron Estes, a Republican, Wins a Kansas Race That Unnerved the G.O.P.
The last time I recall the press being so excited about losing a special-election congressional race in a perceived safe GOP district, Republican Jean Schmidt defeated Paul Hackett in Ohio's Second District by 3.3 points in 2005.
Trump, as well as Vice President Mike Pence, recorded a robocall endorsing the candidate for the seat.
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