Republican Ron Estes has defeated Democrat James Thompson in Kansas' fourth Congressional District, holding that seat for the GOP. As we mentioned earlier today in our preview of the race, this is theoretically a very safe red seat, with Republicans controlling it ever since the 1994 wave election. Just last fall, former Congressman Mike Pompeo won the district by more than 30 points, and Trump carried it with roughly 60 percent of the vote. This was a special election to replace Pompeo, who was tapped by the president to helm the Central Intelligence Agency. With more than 70 percent of precincts reporting, Estes held Thompson by six percentage points, enough of a margin for the race to be called:
High Democratic intensity (including lots of small donors from out of state), plus an exceptionally unpopular Republican Governor, plus an underwhelming candidate who declined to attend multiple candidate forums combined to set Democrats up for a potential upset. They've fallen short nonetheless. We'll wait for the final tally, but that sound you hear is a collective sigh of relief from the Republican Party, followed by another inhale as party strategists ponder whether this relatively close shave might be an omen of difficulties ahead. On the plus side for the GOP, Democrats have now gone 0-for-5 in seat-flipping opportunities at the state and federal levels since Trump's election (and actually gained a legislative seat in Louisiana). That's no small thing.
After President Obama's 2008 victory, Republicans pulled off several statement wins in gubernatorial contests (Bob McDonnell's blowout in Virginia and Chris Christie's win in deep blue New Jersey) and a major Senate race (the Scott Brown stunner in lefty Massachusetts) prior to the historic 2010 landslide. There were significant warning signs along the way. Those haven't materialized for Democrats in 2017 -- yet, at least. On the other hand, a single-digit win in deep red Kansas isn't remotely impressive. Democrats will point to the relatively close margin as a sign that the GOP is in trouble. Republicans will shrug and point out that they still won, even though the candidate was lackluster and had major ties to one of the least popular governors in America. Each party will have another chance to shape the narrative one week from tonight, when Georgia's sixth Congressional District votes. Click through for a brief explainer on the dynamics of that race.
UPDATE - A few more nuggets of analyses related to this race and potential national trends:
UPDATE II - With 97 percent of precincts now reporting, Estes' lead has grown to over eight points. For comparison, Decision Desk HQ notes that Trump win KS-04 by 27 points last year, while Gov. Brownback won it by less than seven points in 2014.