Repub­li­cans at­tempt to rally vot­ers in spe­cial race

Rest­less elec­torate alarms GOP lead­ers

The Washington Times Daily - - POLITICS - BY SETH MCLAUGH­LIN ● David Boyer con­trib­uted to this ar­ti­cle.

Pres­i­dent Trump cut a last-minute robo­call for Repub­li­can Ron Estes in the spe­cial elec­tion to fill Kansas’ empty seat in Congress — raising the stakes in the race and fu­el­ing spec­u­la­tion over whether the contest has be­come too close for com­fort for the GOP.

The Trump call co­in­cided with a visit Mon­day from Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. It also fol­lowed a pro-Estes robo­call from Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence and re­cent in­vest­ments from the Na­tional Repub­li­can Cam­paign Com­mit­tee, as part of a late push to beat back Demo­crat James Thomp­son.

“Hello. This is Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and I have some­thing big to tell you,” Mr. Trump said in the call. “On Tues­day, Repub­li­can Ron Estes needs your vote and needs it badly.”

The pres­i­dent said Mr. Estes “is a con­ser­va­tive leader who is go­ing to work with me to make Amer­ica great again. Ron is go­ing to be help­ing us, big league.”

“But I need Repub­li­cans like Ron Estes to help me get the job done,” Mr. Trump said.

Democrats, mean­while, are hop­ing a last­minute lib­eral surge driven by an­tipa­thy to Mr. Trump and Kansas Gov. Sam Brown­back will lead to an up­set in Tues­day’s spe­cial elec­tion to fill left empty by for­mer Rep. Mike Pom­peo, who be­came the new CIA di­rec­tor.

Po­lit­i­cal ob­servers say district de­mo­graph­ics and re­cent his­tory sug­gests that Mr. Estes is well­po­si­tioned to win, but say Mr. Brown­back’s on­go­ing fights with his own party and Mr. Trump’s early stum­bles as pres­i­dent have left a rest­less elec­torate.

“If you look how Pom­peo had won re-elec­tion nu­mer­ous times and the per­cent­ages he won by this should be a good, solid, easy vic­tory for Estes,” said Matt Hickam, a Kansas-based GOP strate­gist.

“But I think the thing to watch, and this might be a thing to watch in other dis­tricts in the coun­try, is how mo­ti­vated, how amped up, are [Sen. Bernard] San­ders sup­port­ers and the left wing of the Demo­cratic Party,” Mr. Hickam said. “Are they able to turnout vot­ers be­cause of a ha­tred of Trump and con­ser­va­tives?”

Bur­dett A. Loomis, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Kansas Univer­sity, said that in a nor­mal year Mr. Estes wins, but pre­dicted it will be a low turnout af­fair and that Democrats will have more en­thu­si­asm.

“He’s an un­ex­cit­ing can­di­date,” Mr. Loomis said, al­lud­ing to Mr. Estes. “Hon­estly, he’s a stiff.”

Mr. Trump tapped three House law­mak­ers for high roles in his ad­min­is­tra­tion, cre­at­ing a se­ries of open seats that are serv­ing as early po­lit­i­cal tests. The seats are all in solidly red states, but Democrats are still hop­ing for an up­set.

The mar­quee race is next week’s show­down in Ge­or­gia, where Demo­crat Jon Os­soff is tout­ing his anti-Trump cre­den­tials and lead­ing the crowded field in the race to re­place for­mer Rep. Tom Price, who was tapped to be Mr. Trump’s health secretary.

Mr. Trump’s phone call, though, showed that Kansas is heat­ing up as Repub­li­cans look to bol­ster Mr. Estes in his race against Mr. Thomp­son. A loss in GOP coun­try would be em­bar­rass­ing.

The NRCC has re­port­edly in­vested al­most $100,000 into the contest.

“I am not sure that is a sign of Estes’ pos­si­ble weak­ness or if it is just the Repub­li­can lead­er­ship just want­ing to make sure this thing is tied up with a bow,” Mr. Hickam said.

Mr. Trump car­ried the district in south cen­tral Kansas by nearly 30 per­cent­age points over Hil­lary Clin­ton in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial race. The district in­cludes Wichita, which has been a front in the cul­ture wars over abor­tion for decades.

Mr. Thomp­son is pro-choice. Mr. Estes is pro­life, which has helped him rally lo­cal ac­tivists to his cam­paign in the district which houses the na­tional head­quar­ters of Op­er­a­tion Res­cue and its clinic-blockad­ing ef­forts that go back to the 1990s in Wichita.

The NRCC is run­ning ads claim­ing that Mr. Thomp­son sup­ports late-term abor­tions and tax­payer-funded abor­tions, and tout­ing that Mr. Estes “de­fends the cul­ture of life.”

The Thomp­son cam­paign says the ac­cu­sa­tions are false, and is try­ing to tie Mr. Estes to Mr. Brown­back, who late last month ve­toed a mea­sure that would have ex­panded Med­i­caid un­der Oba­macare.

“Ron Estes is noth­ing but a Brown­back yesman,” Thomp­son spokesman Chris Pumpelly said in a re­cent fundrais­ing email. “Kansas just can’t af­ford an­other Brown­backer.”

Democrats re­lied on a sim­i­lar strat­egy in leg­isla­tive races in the fall and picked up seats in both the Kansas House and Se­nate.

“All in all, a Thomp­son vic­tory would be a huge up­set,” Mr. Loomis said. “Un­likely in this par­ti­san era, but if D’s are en­er­gized and turn out, who knows. Clearly R’s in D.C. are wor­ried.”

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