People For the American Way

The 20-point Swing in Kansas Should Give Progressives a Lot of Hope

News and Analysis

Backlash against Donald Trump is alive and well—even in Republican strongholds. Last night in the Kansas special election in Congressional District 4, Trump-embracing Republican Ron Estes only beat progressive Democrat James Thompson by a mere 6.8 points. Last November, Trump won this district by 27 percent… meaning the district has swung 20 percent in six months.

We did not win the seat in Kansas District 4, but make no mistake—this enormous swing is a major victory for the resistance. This seat has been solidly Republican since 1995 and Republicans outraised Thompson by $167,000. It should have never been on the table, and yet they barely clung onto the seat.

Trump’s agenda and the legislation he has pushed so far would prove devastating for the people who live in this district—for example, 15,152 people in this district would lose their healthcare if the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is repealed. Trump also tweeted his support of Estes the night before the election, calling him a “wonderful guy” and saying he needs Estes’ support to repeal the ACA. After Estes’ win, Trump tweeted that Democrats spent heavily in this race (which is not true).

In reality, Republicans were so threatened by Thompson’s candidacy that in the final days of this election they pumped a whopping $100,000 into television ads. By contrast, $148,000 (88 percent) of Thompson’s donations were small-dollar donations. While Thompson may not have had the financial resources of his Republican opponent Estes, the resounding opposition to Trump carried him within single digits of winning this race.

So what does this mean? It means that if progressives can nearly win a seat in a deep-red district that has been held by Republicans for over two decades, we can win anywhere if we have the resources and determination. On April 18, there is another special election in a deep-red district that is hotly contested. In fact, Democrat Jon Ossoff, who PFAW endorsed last month, is leading the contest and polling at 43 percent among likely voters. By contrast, the top Republican contenders Karen Handel and Bob Gray are at 15 percent and 14 percent respectively. Georgia’s special election is called a “jungle primary,” meaning that if no one comes out with over 50 percent on April 18, the top two contenders will go into a runoff. And it’s looking increasingly likely that Ossoff could take the seat and flip the district on April 18.

It’s also striking that Thompson and Ossoff are both true progressives who did not water down their values to succeed in their races. For example, Thompson did not back down in debates when questioned on abortion rights, asserting that if it came up for another congressional vote, he would vote against the Hyde Amendment (which bans most federal funding for abortions). Ossoff’s website proclaims that he will defend funding for Planned Parenthood and the right to choose. The importance of their unabashedly progressive stances in red districts cannot be overstated—the fact that these progressive candidates can challenge Republican shoo-ins or even win in these races shows the sheer strength of the Trump resistance.

We need to keep paying attention to special elections across the country, and progressives should not dismiss races that are in traditionally Republican areas. If we can see a 20-point swing in a Southern district that has been a Republican stronghold for 22 years, we can elect progressive champions everywhere.