In the first special congressional election since President Donald Trump took office, a Republican candidate won a narrower-than-expected victory in a district President Donald Trump easily carried less than six months ago.
The AP projects that State Treasurer Ron Estes will win the U.S. House seat vacated by Mike Pompeo, who now serves as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Estes likely will defeat Democrat James Thompson by less than ten points. Libertarian Chris Rockhold was also on the ballot and drew less than 2 percent of the vote.
The contest had been a sleepy affair until last week when the campaign arm of House Republicans spent $100,000 on ads attacking Thompson at the last minute. It was a sign that national Republicans were frightened about their prospects in a deep-red district where Pompeo was re-elected with more than 60 percent of the vote last November.
In the final days of the race, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was dispatched to campaign for Estes. Both Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump recorded phone calls on the candidate's behalf, and Trump also put the weight of his Twitter account behind Estes.
President Trump's low approval ratings, as well as the sky-high unpopularity of Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, appear to have had an impact on voters' enthusiasm for Estes in this traditionally Republican state.
Trump won 60 percent of the vote in the the 17-county district in south-central Kansas that includes the state's largest city, Wichita. Republicans have held the House seat centered on that part of the state since 1995.
Estes was first elected state treasurer in 2010. His public service career began when he served two terms as treasurer of Sedgwick County, which is home to Wichita. Estes also worked in the aerospace, oil and gas, and manufacturing industries.
Thompson, a civil rights attorney, said he was inspired by Senator Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign last year and decided to run for Congress. 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.
That support proved invaluable: Just days before the election, his campaign spokesman said they received financial support from more than 8,500 people.
Although Thompson fell just short of defeating Estes, his performance may cheer Kansas Democrats, who have struggled to get more than 30 percent of the vote against Pompeo in the last three congressional elections.
The Kansas special election is the first of five House elections that are taking place through the end of June, with Republicans defending four seats.
Another race in the suburbs of Atlanta to to replace Republican Tom Price, who's now Secretary of Health and Human Services, has become extremely competitive. Democrat John Ossoff has raised more than $8 million and leads a crowded field of Republicans. The first round of voting in that election is April 18.