WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — President Donald Trump stepped into a surprisingly competitive special congressional election in Kansas Monday, recording a get-out-the-vote call on behalf of Republican candidate Ron Estes.
The robocall from Trump came as the contest also pulled U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas to Wichita to campaign for Estes and amid a flood of out-of-state GOP money ahead of Tuesday's election in the 4th Congressional District of southern Kansas. It was the first special congressional election since Trump's election as president last year.
His Democratic rival, James Thompson, is spending the final day of campaigning before Tuesday's election talking directly to voters. Thompson's campaign says he's countering the visit of Cruz — who vied with Trump for the Republican presidential candidacy — by knocking on doors, going to diners and doing interviews.
"Republican Ron Estes needs your vote and needs it badly," Trump said in the minute-long call. "Our country needs help. Ron is going to be helping us, big league."
The Associated Press obtained a recording of the call from a person close to the campaign who did not want to be identified because it was being released ahead of an official announcement. The person said it was recorded over the weekend.
The Kansas Republican Party later tweeted that Trump's call was going to "tens of thousands" of prospective voters. Trump's call came after the Estes campaign used a similar call recorded by Vice President Mike Pence, starting Saturday.
The contest in the heavily Republican district was watched across the nation for any sign of a backlash against Republicans following Trump's victory. Trump won with 60 percent of the votes cast in the 17-county congressional district of south-central Kansas.
At stake is a House seat Republicans have held for more than two decades. The vacancy was created when Trump chose former U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo as his CIA director.
A raft 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 anxiety over the seat, flooding the local airways with negative advertising against Thompson, a civil rights attorney. Big out-of-state campaign donations have been flowing in the waning days of the campaign to the Republican's coffers.
The Republican super-PAC Congressional Leadership Fund reported Monday that it had spent $30,000 over the weekend on calls for Estes or against Thompson.
"On the left, there is a small, impassioned group of activists who are out of their minds," Cruz told about 200 people at a rally for Estes on Monday.
The Democratic hard-core base is going to show up for Tuesday's special election, he said.
"Our enemy right now is complacency," Cruz said.
Cruz, who won the Republican primary caucus in Kansas, told reporters before the event that he came to Kansas to support Estes because the race matters nationally.
"The eyes of the country are upon it," he said.
The last-minute national GOP interest comes in a race in which Estes, the state's treasurer, had been expected to coast easily to victory. After a missed candidate event last week, Thompson's campaign noted that Estes has failed to show up in 10 candidate forums and debates during the campaign and attended just three others.
"James Thompson is countering the Cruz visit by talking with voters — something Ron Estes has refused to do. Ron Estes is not raising his own money, he is not campaigning for himself and he is too afraid to go face voters himself," said Chris Pumpelly, his campaign spokesman.
Thompson's campaign announced Monday that it hit 20,000 in total donors to its campaign, which has mostly come in as small dollar donations in the past 76 days.
"James Thompson has done all of this on his own," Pumpelly said. "He is interested in talking with voters, he is not going to be hiding behind any D.C. politicians like Ron Estes is."
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.
Trump's administration picks and a California Democratic appointment have created five openings in the U.S. House, where Republicans have a 237-193 edge. Republicans are defending four GOP-leaning seats — in Kansas, Georgia, Montana and South Carolina — while Democrats are protecting a seat in a liberal California district.
AP Political Writer John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, also contributed to this report.