Kansas has a Republican governor, an all-Republican congressional delegation and hasn’t given its electoral votes to a Democratic presidential candidate since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. The GOP controls the state legislature by an 85-40 margin in the House and a 31-9 majority in the Senate. Donald Trump won the state by more than 20 percent of the vote in November’s election and Mitt Romney won by the same margin in 2012.
Kansas is as deep red as anywhere in the country, but a special congressional election held there Tuesday is expected to be close, which could spell trouble for Republicans heading into next year’s mid-term elections. It has also prompted national political figures, including President Trump, to support Republican state treasurer Ron Estes, whose race against Democrat Jim Thompson was supposed to be a cakewalk for the GOP.
President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence recorded robocalls in support of Estes. On Monday, Sen. Tex Cruz of Texas stumped for the Republican state treasurer, who is running against a surging opponent in Thompson, a civil rights attorney and military veteran.
“If the election was in two more weeks, Thompson might win,” a Kansas Republican strategist told The Hill Monday. “Thank God the election is tomorrow.”
Tuesday’s election might be viewed as the first major voter referendum of the Trump administration. Even if Thompson loses, as is expected, a close finish could indicate Republican support is waning as Trump’s approval ratings rank among the lowest ever for a president so early in his first term.
But despite Republican dominance in Kansas politics, Sam Brownback, the state’s Republican governor, is the second most unpopular in the country, which could complicate any broad conclusions about the national electorate if Thompson wins.
However, another special election campaign in a historically red district has been giving Democrats hope that Tuesday’s election could be the beginning of a trend. In Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, 30-year-old Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff is leading a crowded field to replace Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Early voting has started in that election, which is pitting several Republican candidates against Ossoff. If no one gains 50 percent of the vote, then the top two vote-getters will face off on June 20.
Ossoff is benefiting from a crowded Republican field and millions in outside funding. If he can capture a seat that has remained red since former House Speaker Newt Gingrich won it in 1978, and Thompson can push Estes in Kansas, Democrats may feel justified momentum for the 2018 elections.