In the wake of the special election in Kansas, there's growing consensus among Democrats that the close election is a sign of voter animosity toward President Trump.
Despite Republican Ron Estes securing the former House seat of CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Democrats say the closeness of Kansas’s 4th District election (Estes, 53 percent to Thompson's 46 percent) might be a bad sign for Republicans in the midterm elections.
But scrutiny of the race shows that if there was frustration with a Republican that fueled the chances of Democratic candidate James Thompson, it was not with Trump but with the Sunflower State’s embattled GOP Gov. Sam Brownback.
In brass-knuckled TV ads supporting attorney and Bernie Sanders Democrat Thompson, Democrats slammed State Treasurer Estes as part of the unpopular statehouse team led by Brownback. Because tax cuts he has overseen have resulted in less spending on education, two-term Gov. Brownback has suffered in polls.
According to a just-completed Morning Consult poll on the popularity of the nation’s governors, Brownback has the second-lowest voter approval rating of any of the chief executives of the 50 states. With only 27 percent of Kansas voters approving of his performance, Brownback ranks just ahead of fellow Republican Chris Christie of New Jersey (25 percent approval).
The same “slam Brownback” tactic was employed by Kansas Democrats against GOP incumbents in every one of their state’s U.S. House races last fall and in several legislative contests.
Clearly fearing that their man was in trouble, a super PAC tied to House Speaker Paul Ryan deployed $150,000 on Estes’ behalf in the closing days of the race. The party’s effort focused on turning out conservatives. Robocalls featured endorsements for Estes from Vice President Pence and Trump himself, who called the Republican hopeful “a wonderful guy.” Texas Sen. Ted Cruz made an appearance in Wichita on Estes’ behalf.
For his part, Estes campaigned on traditional conservative themes such as vowing to “repeal and replace” Obamacare and to support a balanced budget amendment.
Relying on a spirited grass-roots effort from fellow Sanders backers, Thompson rolled up nearly 60 percent in votes cast early in Sedgwick County, which comprises about 70 percent of the district. However, the traditional Election Day vote in the Wichita area came in and reduced Thompson to running even. The district's staunchly conservative rural counties went overwhelmingly for Estes by 62 percent to 36 percent.
One intriguing side story in the race was that Thompson narrowly won the Democratic nomination over former State Treasurer Dennis McKinney (who was unseated from his office by Estes). Several sources told Newsmax that McKinney, who is pro-life and considered more moderate than Thompson, might have been a stronger contender against Estes.
“The margin of victory for Ron Estes was smaller than many Republicans hoped, but it shouldn't be taken as an indicator of any national trend,” Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach told Newsmax. “ Special elections have a compressed election schedule and a smaller number of participating voters. Those factors tend to magnify the impact of any strategic choices a campaign makes. I'm confident that Rep. Estes will win the district by bigger margins in the future. He reflects the values of the district.”
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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