In last night’s special election to fill C.I.A. director Mike Pompeo’s House seat in Kansas, Republican candidate Ron Estes won—but only by about seven points, a surprisingly competitive contest for the deep-red district that houses Koch Industries, and a district that Trump won in November by 27 points.
Estes’ Democratic competitor was Wichita civil rights lawyer and Army veteran James Thompson, whose platform emphasized the interests of working families and second amendment rights but also included LGBT rights, fighting climate change, and taking in refugees. Last week, internal Republican polling revealed that Estes’ lead was thin and the GOP started pouring in resources, launching attack ads accusing Thompson of supporting “sex-selective abortions” and shipping in Ted Cruz for an airport rally in Wichita, a scene that should probably be added into the third panel of Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights.
It’s sort of interesting that neither party predicted that this race wouldn’t be business as usual, since Kansas’s Republican governor Sam Brownback’s ultra-conservative fiscal policies have completely blitzed the state’s economy and actually caused public schools to close early for lack of funding. Brownback’s approval rating is at 27 percent, and if it weren’t for Chris Christie’s enduring face-plant, he’d still be the least popular governor in the country. Special elections, also, are known for occasionally driving unexpected results.
As opposed to their efforts in the more widely-publicized special election in Georgia, the DNC and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee waited until the last minute to pitch in with voter outreach efforts; a DCCC official told the Huffington Post on Monday that they felt early intervention would have been “extremely damaging” to Thompson, who they argued was performing well because he’d stayed under-the-radar. But “now that the race is being nationalized, and the involvement of a national party committee can’t be used against him, we don’t want Thompson to go unprotected,” the official told HuffPost.
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In an interview with the Washington Post last week, DNC chair Tom Perez said the party—which had initially denied a request from Thompson’s campaign to help fund a mailer, then eventually sent $3,000—wouldn’t be contributing any last-minute funds (they did eventually announce on Monday they’d be funding some late get-out-the-vote calls), noting that there are “thousands of elections every year,” and “Can we invest in all of them? That would require a major increase in funds.”
Over in the special election for Tom Price’s seat in Georgia’s sixth district, recently deemed a “toss-up” by the Cook Political Report, the Democratic party has thrown themselves behind 30-year-old Jon Ossoff in hopes that he can grab 50 percent of the vote in next week’s primary and win the seat outright. And even without national party support, Montana’s special election for Ryan Zinke’s House seat, popular Bluegrass singer Rob Quist’s populist campaign has topped $1.3 million in donations (via 22,000 individual contributions).
Although the president himself doesn’t seem to have a real strong read on what just happened, the Republican party isn’t likely to get caught asleep at the wheel in 2018. It’s very clear that momentum and energy is on the Democrats’ side right now, and the GOP will throw an enormous amount of money and strategy at this problem in an attempt to keep the legislative branch under Republican control.
“We’ve shown that this district is not just competitive, but that we can win it,” Thompson said in his concession speech last night. “Mr. Estes did not beat us. It took the President of the United States, the Vice President, the Speaker of the House, a senator coming into our state, and a bunch of lies.”
“Mr. Estes may have won this battle, but he has not won the war,” Thompson said, to appreciative screams from the crowd. “I’m going to announce my candidacy for 2018.”
Jezebel reached out to a DNC representative for comment on their strategy for the Kansas race and whether any reassessments have taken place based on the close results; we’ll update if they provide one.
UPDATE: DNC communications director Xochitl Hinojosa responded with the following statement:
Voters in Kansas showed up in a district Trump carried by 27 points in November and voiced their resounding frustration with a Trump agenda that takes away critical health care for families and prioritized wealthy CEOs and special interests over American workers. The Democratic Party is committed to organizing in every zip code because the American people deserve a level playing field and policies that help them get ahead.
The DNC declined to comment on the party’s plans for the upcoming Montana special election.