Progressive Democratic Primary Opponents Looking To Flip Kansas' 4th Congressional District Blue
Last spring, just minutes after learning he had lost the special election for the 4th Congressional District seat to Ron Estes, James Thompson announced he was running again.
"I announced the night that I lost that I was running in 2018 because I saw a fire that was ignited here that we needed to continue pushing," Thompson says. "There was never a question in my mind."
The civil rights lawyer has spent the past year and a half in campaign mode, largely with the same team of supporters that was behind him last year. He says a major difference in this election is time.
"We’ve got more than just 60 days to run a race," he says. "Last year, you know, coming in [as] the political novice, [I] had not been in politics at all. And so I didn't have the time really to get out to all the rural areas and speak with everybody and let them get to know me. So that's really the biggest thing that's changed."
Of the 17 counties in the district, Thompson carried just one in the special election: He received 50 percent of the votes in Sedgwick County, largely because of voters in Wichita.
Thompson already is eyeing the general election and a likely rematch with Estes. But he isn’t the only one taking another shot at the 4th District seat.
During last year’s special election, Laura Lombard was one of five people – and the only woman – who sought the Democratic nomination, which ultimately went to Thompson. She filed again in July.
Lombard is fairly new to politics: Her background is in international trade, and she worked under a former secretary of defense who served in the Clinton administration.
She knows she’s had a hill to climb to catch up with Thompson, but she says the gap is closing.
"A year ago this time July when we filed, I was absolutely behind," she says. "People knew James’ name from the special election, but over the course of this year there's been a lot of work put in to get my name out there and it's succeeding."
If she wins next month’s primary, she would be the first woman Democrat to run in the district, and she could be the first woman of any party to represent it.
"Looking into the general election in terms of winnability, there is a big factor this year, I think, in terms of people wanting diversity in who's representing them," she says. "And demographically ... being a female I'm a different demographic .... than we've seen in this district in the past."
Policy-wise, the two candidates don’t differ on many of the biggest issues facing Congress: They both favor expanding access to health care, ending corporate tax loopholes and cutting taxes for the middle class, and offering a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers.
They’re split, though, on guns: Lombard says she supports the Second Amendment but favors tighter restrictions ("Let's keep them out of the hands of people who don't need to have them, who are dangerous to society," she says) while Thompson, an Army veteran, doesn't want to ban weapons.
They also disagree on NAFTA.
"She is much more in favor of a complete free trade arrangement," Thompson says of his opponent.
Both candidates are running on progressive platforms. Thompson, who says he won't accept corporate donations, secured the endorsement of Vermont senator and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, whose recent visit to Kansas drew national interest over how his socialist message would fare in a Republican state.
Thompson says this is the year a Democrat could flip the district blue.
"The past 20 years of Democratic elections in our state where they have ran this not-quite-Republican-platform candidates and lost by 30 points shows that that's not the way to go if you want people to respond and be active and be motivated," he says. "You need to give them something to vote for, not just a lesser version of something that they already don't like."
Democratic voters will have to decide on Aug. 7 whose brand of progressive politics they like more — and who they think can win the solidly red district in November.