The first congressional election of Donald Trump’s presidency is one week away. Although Republicans are strongly favored to retain the seat formerly held by Rep. Mike Pompeo, the race is seen as the Democrats’ first test of candidates, messages, strategies, and tactics in an effort to win a series of special elections over the course of the next three months, and to prepare for midterm elections in 2018. Kansas Democrats chose James Thompson, a civil rights attorney from Wichita, as their standard bearer to run against state treasurer Ron Estes. Can a Democrat win in a solidly Republican state representing a district that includes Koch Industries? The answer is yes, though it will be an uphill battle based on historical trends and more recent developments in the state. If elected, Thompson would be the first Democrat to hold the seat in more than two decades, and would be the only Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation.
The New York Times has an interesting story about Kansas Democrats and moderate Republicans making gains in the state legislature during the last election, in a state which Donald Trump won by 20 points:
In this election year, voters across Kansas leaned firmly to the right at the federal level, but showed far more nuance when it came to their state. In parts of Kansas, they punished conservative legislators linked to Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax-cutting doctrine, instead gravitating toward moderate Republicans and Democrats like Mr. Parker who blame the governor and his legislative allies for imperiling the state’s finances and putting public schools at risk.
“Their goal was very simple, and that was to associate me with Brownback,” said James Todd, the two-term Republican lawmaker Mr. Parker challenged here in suburban Kansas City. “That obviously was effective enough to beat me.”
For generations, Republicans have dominated Kansas politics, and that seems unlikely to change any time soon. Many voters here believe strongly in the party’s message on issues such as abortion and gun rights and want limits on government spending. But some of those same Republicans have grown frustrated during Governor Brownback’s six-year tenure with perpetual budget shortfalls, cuts to road projects, rollbacks to social services and, especially resonant here in Overland Park, perceived budget threats to public schools.
It is interesting to see how voters responded to one-party rule in state government in one of the reddest states in the country that has not voted for a Democratic president since 1964. The question Democrats will probably be asking themselves in the weeks and months ahead is what – if anything – can they learn from what happened in Kansas and if they can capitalize on that in future statewide and congressional races.