Republicans called in the big guns to Kansas this week, hoping to ensure they win the first congressional race of the Trump era on Tuesday — a race that has become surprisingly close.
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas flew in to Wichita for a rally, telling a crowd that “our enemy right now is complacency.” Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump recorded robo-calls. Advertising dollars came pouring in. The president took to Twitter.
National Democrats have been largely absent, however, saying that the race — between the Republican candidate, State Treasurer Ron Estes, and Democrat James Thompson — is not the best use of their resources. And on paper, they’re right. Former Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo, who is now director of the CIA, won Kansas’ largely rural 4th District by 31 percentage points in November. The district is also the home of Koch Industries, owned by GOP mega-donors the Koch brothers.
But the race has become unexpectedly competitive thanks to a deeply unpopular Republican governor and a president with dismal approval ratings. An internal Republican poll reportedly showed Estes up by a single percentage point last week.
“We knew that we were going to do well, but we didn’t have an idea that we would get this much of a groundswell and this much momentum going,” Thompson told VICE News.
If Thompson loses a tight race, Democrats may wish they could have a do-over. Anti-Trump money is seemingly flowing into every progressive vein in the country — except in Kansas. Democrat John Ossoff of Georgia has raised more than $8 million in his race to replace Tom Price, who is now secretary of Health and Human Services. Democrat Rob Quist of Montana announced Tuesday that he raised more than $1 million in his race to replace former Rep. Ryan Zinke, who is now Interior Secretary.
But in Kansas, Estes has out-raised Thompson $459,000 to $292,000, according to recent fundraising reports. The state Democratic Party initially declined to give Thompson’s campaign money even for a mailer, then relented and gave him $3,000. Even as the race narrowed in the past week, new DNC Chair Tom Perez told the Washington Post that the national organization wouldn’t be pouring money into the Kansas race.
“There are thousands of elections every year,” Perez said. “Can we invest in all of them? That would require a major increase in funds.”