With Saturday’s selection of Democrat James Thompson and Libertarian Chris Rockhold, the field is essentially set for the race for the 4th District congressional seat vacated by Mike Pompeo.
Republicans chose their candidate, state Treasurer Ron Estes, on Thursday night.
No other candidates are expected in the April 11 special election to replace Pompeo, who resigned from Congress to join President Trump’s administration as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Democrats picked civil rights attorney James Thompson over former state Treasurer Dennis McKinney after two rounds of balloting by their district committee.
About 300 Democrats jammed the jury room at the Sedgwick County Courthouse in Wichita for the convention, where 39 voting delegates were nearly evenly divided.
Thompson won the nomination 21-18. The first ballot was Thompson 17, McKinney 16. Candidates Laura Lombard, Robert Tillman and Charlie Walker were eliminated in the first round.
Thompson promised to work to “turn Kansas blue again” and fight for “sanity and justice” in government.
Have no doubt about that this is going to be a referendum on Trump policies. James Thompson, Democratic candidate for Congress
“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,” Ward 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. Kelly Arnold, Kansas Republican chairman
“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 been state treasurer since 2011. Prior to that, he was Sedgwick County treasurer from 2005 to 2011.
Thompson said he expects Republicans to attempt to exploit a 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 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.”
As treasurer, Estes has not been directly involved in state spending decisions. The office is primarily involved in managing state accounts, abandoned property and the state-sponsored college-savings program.
At the GOP convention Thursday, Estes said he worked hard to make Sedgwick County and Kansas state government more responsive and efficient.
“I like to solve problems, not create them,” he said. “Unfortunately, government doesn’t always work that way.”
In the third and final party convention in the race, Wichita flight simulator instructor Rockhold was the choice to carry the Libertarian flag.
Rockhold defeated Gordon Bakken 17-3 on the first ballot at the Alford Branch Library in south Wichita. John Kostner did not receive any votes.
Rockhold — who ran in 2014 for a seat in the Washington House of Representatives — told the small crowd that “a cancer” is afflicting the nation today and that cancer is statism.
An overwhelming majority of people he has spoken with, Rockhold said, have told him they want a third political party.
As for why he won so handily on Saturday, the instructor for Flight Safety International said, “I think I was the best voice for representing what they believe in.”
It will be a little bit of a struggle, but we’re ready to tackle it. Chris Rockhold, Libertarian candidate for Congress
As a third-party candidate, he said, “It will be a little bit of a struggle, but we’re ready to tackle it.”