Fourth Congressional District Democrats on Saturday selected civil-rights attorney James Thompson as their candidate to run against Republican State Treasurer Ron Estes for the congressional seat vacated by Mike Pompeo.
About 300 Democrats jammed the jury room at the Sedgwick County Courthouse for their special nominating convention, where 39 voting delegates split almost down the middle between Thompson and former state Treasurer Dennis McKinney.
Thompson won the nomination on the convention’s second ballot, 21-18.
In the first ballot, Thompson got 17 to McKinney’s 16.
Candidates Laura Lombard, Robert Tillman and Charlie Walker were eliminated on the first ballot.
Thompson will face Estes in an April 11 special election to fill the seat left empty when Pompeo resigned from Congress to become President Trump’s director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Thompson promised to work to "turn Kansas blue again" and fight for "sanity and justice" in government.
"The eyes of the country are upon us," he said. "Have no doubt about that this is going to be a referendum on Trump policies."
Kansas House Minority Leader Jim Ward told the crowd he thinks Democrats can win that fight, even though Trump easily won Kansas in the November election.
"There’s a lot of people in the 4th District who voted for Donald Trump," he said. "(But) even if they’re good hard Republicans, they’re nervous about that. That man scares them, just like he scares us and they’re not sure if they made the right decision."
Electing a Democrat to represent a majority-Republican district would send a message to Trump to "stay in his own lane," Ward said.
As Democrats sought to link Estes to Trump, Republicans sought to yoke Thompson to former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.
The Republicans’ “Fire Pelosi” campaign in 2010 helped them nationalize state and local elections across Kansas and gain a veto-proof majority in the Statehouse.
“Yet again, Kansas Democrats nominate a Nancy Pelosi rubber stamp more concerned with obstruction, massive spending increases, retaining failed Obamacare, and weakening national security than serving the people of the Fourth District,” Kansas Republican Chairman Kelly Arnold said in a statement.
The statement hailed Estes as “an engineer, businessman, grassroots leader, and principled conservative who is committed to finding solutions, repealing Obamacare, balancing the budget, and keeping our nation safe.”
Estes has served as Kansas state treasurer since 2011. Prior to that, he served as Sedgwick County treasurer from 2005 to 2011.
Thompson said he expects Republicans to attempt to exploit the divide in the Democratic Party between traditionalists who backed Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential primaries and more progressive members who backed Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
"We not only have to persist. We have to resist," Thompson said. "They (Republicans) know that a divided group is not going to be able to stand up to whatever unity they have."
At a news conference after the vote, Thompson sought to link Estes not only to Trump, but also to Gov. Sam Brownback.
Thompson said he’s not concerned that Estes has won a series of state and Sedgwick County elections, often by broad margins.
"Well, he’s never run against me, for one, and No. 2, he also has to own what he’s done," Thompson said. "He’s going to be owning all the positions that he’s been a part of … He’s going to own Brownback’s positions as well, because he is a Brownback clone."
He said the election is "going to be a question of whether people are happy with Gov. Brownback’s positions or whether they want a change."
"I think it’s evident here today and evident here in our community that people do want to see a different set of policies that are good for everyone instead of just the rich and powerful," Thompson said.
As treasurer, Estes has not been directly involved in state spending decisions. The office is primarily involved in managing state accounts and the state-sponsored college-savings program. Estes also oversees abandoned property, attempting to link it back to its owners.