Wichita Republicans survived an election scare on Tuesday and won a Kansas House seat in the first congressional election since President Donald Trump's victory, but the margin was much narrower than expected in a district that had voted overwhelmingly for Trump in November.
Republican state Treasurer Ron Estes, 60, will represent the Kansas 4th congressional district replacing Mike Pompeo, whom Trump named as CIA director.
Trump won 60 percent of the district's vote in November, and Pompeo won re-election by 31 points. Estes defeated civil rights lawyer James Thompson by only about five percentage points, suggesting some backlash against Republicans since November.
"Republicans nationally should be very worried," said Bob Beatty, a Washburn University political scientist. "It's remarkable that Thompson got this close."
In the waning days of the campaign, Republicans pulled in U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas to campaign in Wichita for Estes, and both Vice President Mike Pence and Trump recorded robo-calls for him. A flood of big GOP campaign donations and a last-minute ad buy last week of nearly $100,000 by the National Republican Congressional Committee also signaled GOP nervousness.
Thompson, 46, was a political newcomer backed by Our Revolution, the group that continues the work of Sen. Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign.
Libertarian Chris Rockhold trailed a distant third in the race.
Republicans have represented the district since Todd Tiahrt unseated veteran Democratic Rep. Dan Glickman in 1994. Pompeo won the state's 4th District seat in 2010, when Tiahrt gave it up to run unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate.
Estes supported Trump last year and backs the president's policies. He supports the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, backs funding for a wall on the border with Mexico, opposes funding for Planned Parenthood and does not believe an independent investigation into Russian hacking of the election is needed.
Trump's selections for top administration jobs and a California Democratic appointment have created five openings in the U.S. House, where Republicans have a 237-193 edge. In addition to the Kansas seat, Republicans are defending GOP-leaning seats in Georgia, Montana and South Carolina, while Democrats are protecting a seat in a liberal California district.