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Politics

4th District Republican Primary Opponents Share A Name, But Little Else

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Ascha Lee of KMUW/Courtesy photo
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In May, just a few days before the primary filing deadline, there came news that Republican Congressman Ron Estes had an unexpected primary challenger: Ron Estes.

"I don't think the current Congress is doing their job," said Ron M. Estes, a Wichita engineer. "They're not representing the people very well in their constituency.

"So given the opportunity, yeah, I threw my name in the hat and I'm running to beat Ron Estes.”

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Credit Nadya Faulx / KMUW
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KMUW
Ron M. Estes in his east Wichita home.

Candidate Estes has worked at Boeing for about 40 years; this is his first run for any political office. His campaign has been relatively quiet, with no TV or radio ads.

Estes hasn't received any contributions, but lent his campaign about $2,000 to pay for a website and the filing fee with the Secretary of State's office.

Though his candidacy at first seemed like a gimmick — it even made national news — Estes and his wife, Ellen, who runs his campaign and has spoken on his behalf at political forums, say they just want to give voters a choice.

"I think he's letting the whole primary just go," candidate Estes says of the first-term congressman. "I don't think he has any concern in the world."

The two Republican candidates for the 4th Congressional District may share a name, but that’s where the similarities end.

Rep. Estes won last year’s special election to replace Mike Pompeo with 52 percent of the vote, and before that he served as the state treasurer. In his year and a half in Congress, he’s been solidly conservative: He favors cutting taxes, repealing the Affordable Care Act and tightening the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I'm in favor of a broad range of security things, which include additional Border Patrol agents," Rep. Estes says. "It includes a wall in portions. We're not going to build a wall between the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.

"But we are going to ... make sure that we have surveillance capabilities to make sure that we can detect [tunnels] ... and make sure that we move forward from there.”

Candidate Estes, meanwhile, strays from the traditional Republican platform: He doesn’t support corporate tax cuts or the Trump administration’s immigration policy. He’s pro-life and wants to legalize marijuana. And he and his wife have donated money to Democratic candidates, including James Thompson, who’s running in the Democratic primary for the 4th District seat.

But the candidate says he’ll be a good representative because he doesn’t stick to a party platform.

“I'm not going to be a pushover," candidate Estes says. "I'm not going to necessarily just take the party line.

"There's got to be some way that we can regain control, to methodically approach these issues that Mr. Trump thinks we have, to better understand the issues. Really, I believe the current representative has pretty much gone down the party line, is supporting the Republican Party platform without any consideration for his constituency."

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Congressman Estes dismisses his opponent as a pretend Republican.

“I think people just need to realize that ... this is just a misleading effort trying to deceive the voters," he says. "We want to talk about all the things we've accomplished; we want to talk about the things that we’re trying to put forward.”

To avoid voter confusion, the candidates will appear as “Ron M. Estes” and “Rep. Ron Estes” on the primary ballot, a decision that some say unfairly favors the incumbent. The congressman has a page on his campaign website titled “Imposter Ron M. Estes” to point out the difference.

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Credit Nadya Faulx / KMUW/File photo
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KMUW/File photo
Rep. Ron Estes talks to an attendee at this year's GOP convention in Wichita.

But Rep. Estes says his primary opponent may have had a good effect on his campaign, which has raised more than $1.4 million in contributions.

“We’re just focusing on getting that message out which is ... actually to some degree helping in terms of developing the Ron Estes name ID," the congressman says. "If we had no opponent at all we'd have done different things; if we'd had an opponent who was named Sam Jones we'd have done different things.”

Rep. Estes says this election will be different than last year’s special election, which was seen as the first real test of Trump’s presidency. He says this year will be less about reaction to the 2016 election and more about policy.

“I think the dynamics of this election are going to be great as we go forward that ... people will be able to truly express what their thoughts are and ideally indicate that they are happy with representation," he says. "I think that the mood of the country is that we're heading in the right direction in so many fronts.”

Candidate Estes disagrees — and he says the voters he’s talked to over the course of his grassroots campaign disagree, too. That theory will be tested Aug. 7 when voters pick which Ron Estes they want to see on the general election ballot.

“We have done quite a bit of traveling, and we're just talking with people," candidate Estes says. "The major thing that we hear is their dissatisfaction with the current Congress, the inability of Congress to function as it should.

"There's a lot of unhappy people out there.”

Follow Nadya Faulx on Twitter @NadyaFaulx. To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.