All eyes on Kansas in first congressional election of Trump era

Voters headed to the polls Tuesday in Kansas for the first congressional election since Donald Trump won the White House. Republican Ron Estes is favored, but the race has suddenly drawn national interest as a potential test of whether the anti-Trump organizing campaigns can move voters to the polls.

The special election in Kansas’ Fourth Congressional District pits Estes, the twice-elected Kansas state treasurer, against civil rights attorney and army veteran James Thompson. They are vying for the seat vacated by Mike Pompeo, who was picked by Trump to be CIA director. Libertarian Chris Rockhold is also running.

Kansas is not a swing state in presidential elections, and the last time a Democrat won its Fourth Congressional District was 1992. This past fall, Donald Trump trounced Hillary Clinton in the district by 27 points, and Pompeo bested his Democratic rival by 31 percentage points.

Yet districts that have been held for a long time by a single party can be unexpectedly vulnerable to strong challenges during special elections, which often feature unpredictable turnout among voters. And because Republicans already control both chambers of Congress and the White House, liberal voters may be more motivated to turn out than conservatives.

Additionally, party get-out-the-vote machinery tends to fall into disarray when not regularly used, and safe districts with little in the way of strong general-election challenges provide few incentives to build and maintain an electoral infrastructure.

Thompson’s campaign in the district proved to have surprising momentum, forcing national Republicans to pitch in to bolster Estes in what should have been an easy Republican seat to hold.

Colin Curtis, Thompson’s campaign manager, told the Kansas City Star that Estes has “taken the district for granted and the people for granted. He expects these voters just to show up and blindly vote for him because he’s a registered Republican.”

Across the country, both parties have…

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