What we learned from, what many people are calling, the first litmus test of the 2018 general elections.
Last night, Kansas’ 4th Congressional District (KS-04) held a special election to see who would replace Republican Rep. Mike Pompeo’s seat; who had to give up his seat to take a position in the Trump administration as CIA Director. Now usually, KS-04 is a lock for Republicans due to the demographics of the area: rural, mostly white, working class voters. However last night, things got a little interesting…
Estes underperformed Trump's margin by 20.3 points. If every district behaved like that, Dems would gain 122 (!) House seats next November. https://t.co/4H9AjAhF84
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) April 12, 2017
In the last election, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 27 points, and a Democrat hasn’t held a congressional seat there since 1994! KS-04’s congressional seat was supposed to be the easiest of layups for Republicans. Yet Democrat Jim Thompson only lost by eight points to Republican Ron Estes!
While this would had been bigger news if Thompson would have actually pulled the upset, however there are some serious takeaways from KS-04’s special election!
Takeaway #1: The Republican Machine is Down, But Not Out!
Now before we go any further, we should make a few things crystal clear:
- Yes, this race shouldn’t have been THIS close!
Yes, the GOP almost lost a congressional seat in a state that is home to Koch Brothers!
Yes, the Republicans almost lost a seat in an area where President Donald Trump’s approval rating is polling above 50%!
Yes, this is most definitely a troubling sign for the GOP’s chances in 2018!
So it’s understandable why everyone’s hot take right now will be that the Democrats almost won a congressional seat that they had no right of winning! However, much like the ball, ballots don’t lie! Republicans still won the KS-04 seat!
Over the past few days, GOP operatives saw how close the KS-04 special election was getting and course corrected appropriately. In a flurry of TV ad buys that labeled Thompson as a “Washington liberal”, robo-calls featuring President Donald Trump, and Sen. Ted Cruz doing an “impromptu” campaign appearance for Estes, the Republicans were able to avert disaster. The GOP had effectively corralled its base just enough to eek out a win on election day.
There is no doubt that the GOP political brand is severely damaged at the moment, but they were able to cobble together a successful campaign, even if it was supposed to be an easy win. But still, a win is a win.
And, yes, that very much matters!
Takeaway #2: Democrats Still Have to Figure-Out Their Strategy for Winning Back the House
Earlier this year, the new Democratic National Committee Chair, Tom Perez, told the Washington Post that they would be taking a 57 state/territory strategy when it came to vying for House seats. However, when people expected a push from the DNC in terms of pushing Thompson in KS-04’s special election, none ever came.
Even though the DNC is taking it on the chin today from many political pundits and armchair analysts on Twitter, it’s hard to say if their involvement in the KS-04 special election would have changed the outcome. The Democrats’ main strategy so far has been to let the Trump administration, the GOP Establishment, and the Freedom Caucus publicly implode with their impossible promises they had made over the past few years. And for the most part, it’s working.
It’s also important to note that the DNC’s involvement in Thompson’s campaign could have had the opposite effect and energized those who dislike the Democrats more. So theoretically anyway, the DNC’s strategy was sound. However, the problem is that it wasn’t focused.
Between now and 2018, the DNC has to figure out how it’s going to win back the House. Do they take that 57 state/territory approach and compete in all House races, even those that are long shots? Or, do you use a more surgical approach and pinpoint your resources on those House races that a Democrat would have the best shot at winning? Honestly at this point, there are strong arguments for both strategies.
Regardless, Democrats need to figure out a party strategy when it comes to winning back the House. If they don’t, then results like KS-04 will become a regular occurrence in 2018!
(Photo Credit: Wikipedia)