Republican Rep. Ron Estes won his re-election bid Tuesday for Kansas' 4th Congressional seat.
Unofficial numbers show Estes beat Democratic challenger James Thompson with 60 percent of the vote over Thompson’s 40 percent.
Speaking at an election night rally at the Drury Hotel in downtown Wichita, Estes told the nearly 200 supporters gathered that it has been an honor to represent the district over the past 18 months. He said citizens have had to fight against their district being “taken away.”
“We’ve had folks from across the country — Bernie Sanders, you know, the biggest socialist in the world — coming here to talk about trying to flip Kansas and take it away. We’ve had the Huffington Post and MSNBC talking about it, we even had Ben and Jerry’s, you know, that liberal bastion of ice cream makers, talk about it," he said to laughter. "But you wouldn’t let them.”
This will be Estes’ first full term in Congress: He and Thompson originally faced each other for the same seat during the April 2017 special election to replace Mike Pompeo, who President Trump nominated as head of the CIA, and who currently serves as secretary of state.
Estes defeated Thompson by about six percentage points then, though turnout was low, just about 30 percent — fewer than half of the voters that cast votes during Pompeo's 2016 win came out for the special election. On Tuesday, Estes lead by about 20 percentage points over Thompson.
Estes has said the 2017 election was more a referendum on the president, but that the midterms would reflect his success over the past year and a half in Congress.
“We’ve accomplished so much, from the standpoint of making sure we address the opioid epidemic, we address mental health issues,” he said. “We’ve worked to make sure that we supported our veterans and that they got the medical care they deserved whether it’s at the VA or at a provider close to home of their choice.”
Estes said moving forward, Congress needs to focus on increasing border security and making the middle class tax cuts permanent so "the Democrats can't raise taxes again."
Alta Segovia, head of the local Republican Women United group, said she supports Estes' stances on health care and immigration, two issues high in priority for her and other voters.
“I think that he does not always agree with the way Trump says it, but with what President Trump is trying to accomplish I think he’s behind him,” she said, “and we’re behind both of those very much so.”
Estes will be returning to a seat in a U.S. House that saw major Democratic gains nationwide.
The “blue wave” that’s led to gains in the U.S. House — and helped Sharice Davids win in Kansas’ 3rd District, unseating incumbent Kevin Yoder — didn’t include Thompson. The civil rights lawyer had been in campaign mode since coming within fewer than 7 percentage points of beating Estes last year. But even with strong campaign funding and national backing, Thompson struggled in the heavily Republican district, which elected Trump in 2016 with 60 percent of the vote over Hillary Clinton. The district hasn't had a Democratic representative in Congress since 1995.
Early optimism at Thompson's watch party in Wichita Tuesday diminished as Estes' lead grew throughout the night. Many voters and volunteers had hoped that national issues and Thompson's extended period on the campaign trail could lead to an upset in the traditionally Republican district.
Strong wins for Democrats in other races across the state — especially Laura Kelly's victory in the governor's race — tempered most feelings of loss at the watch party. Trump was listed as a top motivator for many voters, alongside health care. Defeating Republican candidate for governor Kris Kobach was also high on the priority list for many.
"I'm disappointed," said Charles P. Daniels, a Wichita resident. "But at least we got rid of Kobach."
Voters hoping for a progressive candidate did express regret over Thompson's loss. For them, he represented a rare chance for politics in the style of Bernie Sanders in Kansas; the Vermont senator and former presidential candidate had endorsed Thompson earlier this year.
"This is Kansas," said Sean Beebe, who volunteered for Thompson, "so unfortunately it's not that surprising."
Thompson did not concede the race Tuesday night, though he admitted he was unlikely to be end up in Congress after the final votes were tallied. He refrained from saying what his politic future holds, but did not rule out the idea of running again.
"Don't get rid of my yard signs," Thompson told supporters. "We may need them again."
Follow Stephan Bisaha on Twitter @SteveBisaha. Follow Nadya Faulx on Twitter @NadyaFaulx. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.