WICHITA, Kan. – Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) warned hundreds of local Republicans of the dangers of complacency as part of a last-minute push to turn out voters for state treasurer Ron Estes, the Republican candidate in tomorrow’s special congressional election.
“The eyes of the whole country are on Kansas,” Cruz said.
Tomorrow’s election is the first of Donald Trump’s presidency. It is also the first test of Democrats’ candidates, messages, strategies, and tactics since the presidential election. The seat previously held by Rep. Mike Pompeo had been safely Republican since the 1994 midterm elections. Though the political history and culture of the district and state at large favor Republicans, anecdotal evidence indicates that state and national Republicans are worried about losing the seat in a district that Donald Trump won by 27 points last November. Republicans have tried to nationalize the race by tying Democratic candidate James Thompson to House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate minority leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who Thompson has openly cited as his inspiration for running for office. [Sanders’s post-election organization Our Revolution has endorsed Thompson.]
Besides Cruz’s last-minute campaign rally, the National Republican Congressional Committee made a $92,000 expenditure in this race. [According to the New York Times, the NRCC received a poll last week showing Estes ahead only by single digits.] House Speaker Paul Ryan sent out a fundraising email and donated $5,000. Vice President Mike Pence’s robocall, it was revealed today that President Trump himself recorded a robocall on Estes’s behalf. The Cook Political Report shifted its assessment of the race from Likely Republican to Lean Republican. From their analysis:
Republicans familiar with recent polling describe extremely high Democratic intensity and very low GOP enthusiasm in what is likely to be a very low turnout special. More than that, Estes appears to be swept up in a last-minute vortex of factors outside his control: Democrats’ anger towards Trump, independents’ anger towards Gov. Sam Brownback and GOP dissatisfaction with early administration failures.
Estes himself was optimistic about the race entering the final stretch. “There’s been a lot of enthusiasm the last couple of weeks. People are now starting to focus on April 11 and really going to turn out,” he said during a brief interview after the rally. “There’s a lot of people, a couple of weeks ago they were doing other things, maybe the basketball tournament. But now they’re focusing on the election and really want to have a representative.”
The people at the rally were of all ages and walks of life. One local father took his two middle school-aged children out of class early so they could attend the rally on Monday afternoon, which he described as “a civics lesson.”
“I hope it turns out good,” Robert Pell, a Republican committeeman from Wichita said. He noted he had seen more yard signs for Thompson than Estes, who had not put out as many. He cited the Second Amendment and repealing Obamacare as his two major issues in this race.
Melissa Stout said this was her first campaign event, and she came to hear from both Cruz and Estes. She ranked her issues in the election as “standing behind our president,” opposition to abortion, and support for the Second Amendment.
In his speech, Cruz mentioned four “big things” Republicans had on their plate for 2017: the Supreme Court, repealing Obamacare, regulatory reform, and tax reform. “We have a Republican president, a Republican House and a Republican Senate. How about we act like it?” Cruz asked rhetorically, to applause from the audience. “If we accomplish all four things, 2017 will be a blockbuster year. If we fail, 2017 will be a heartbreaking year.”
A Thompson victory in the Fourth Congressional District would probably draw comparisons to Scott Brown’s improbable U.S. Senate victory in Massachusetts in 2010, though Thompson’s would not be as consequential to the balance of power in Congress. The special election in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District scheduled for April 18 is another worry for national Republicans. The Cook Political Report recently rated the Georgia race as a toss up.
When viewed individually, the Kansas and Georgia races might be dismissed as a fluke. Taken into conjunction, happening in two different regions of the country within the span of a week, both in districts considered safely Republican, these two races would cause alarm among Republicans. Less than one hundred days into the Trump presidency, they would be indicators of the volatility of the electorate going into 2018, particularly for Republican chances of retaining control of the House of Representatives.