By John Celock
After an election defined more by Democratic attacks on Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) than President Donald Trump, a Republican has narrowly won a special election to fill a congressional seat in Kansas.
Returns show state Treasurer Ron Estes (R) defeating Democrat James Thompson 53 percent to 45 percent for the Wichita area congressional seat left vacant earlier this year by CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Estes’ win came after last minute involvement from national Republicans, seeking to retain the GOP district in the first special election for a congressional seat in the Trump era.
National Democrats largely ignored the race, focusing instead on Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff’s special election next week to fill a vacant GOP congressional seat in the Atlanta area. Ossoff, a former congressional aide, has been a favorite of Washington Democrats, who view the crowded Republican field as a path for Ossoff to pull off a victory in next week’s first round. While Ossoff has been embraced by DC Democrats in a state the national party has been trying to turn purple in recent years, Thompson, an Army veteran and Bernie Sanders supporter, had received little help in his race.
Thompson and his staff focused early on attacks on Brownback’s tax policy, which has made the governor one of the most unpopular state chief executives in the country. Last year, Democrats and moderate Republicans had gained seats in the Kansas Legislature on a largely anti-Brownback campaign. Thompson also put some of the focus on Trump, who had easily won the Wichita area and Kansas in last year’s election.
Estes, a two-term state treasurer, had national Republicans deploying resources in the final weeks of the race, including a Monday visit from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and a robocall from Trump, in an attempt to headoff a last minute upset from Thompson.
The results showed Thompson narrowly winning Sedgwick County, home to Wichita, with Estes winning the rest of the counties in the district.
Estes’ victory keeps the Wichita area seat in GOP hands, where it has been since Republican Todd Tiahrt defeated them U.S. Rep. Dan Glickman (D) in 1994. Estes has long been viewed a likely candidate to succeed Pompeo, if the former congressman had sought a U.S. Senate seat. Estes had served as a two-term Sedgwick County treasurer before winning the state treasurer’s post in 2010.
Estes defeated several Republicans, including Trump campaign aide Alan Cobb, to win the GOP nominating convention, while Thompson won the Democratic nominating convention, defeating among others former state Treasurer Dennis McKinney (D). McKinney, a moderate Democrat who lost the treasurer’s office to Estes in 2010, had been viewed as an initial frontrunner on the Democratic side, due to his longevity in state politics.
Estes’ victory means Brownback will now fill the remainder of his term as state treasurer. McKinney had been appointed to the treasurer’s office in 2009 by then Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) when Republican Lynn Jenkins gave up the post after being elected to another congressional seat.