Candidates in Tuesday’s congressional election made their final arguments on Monday, with Republican Ron Estes rallying with a popular GOP senator and Democrat James Thompson greeting voters in downtown Wichita.
Sen. Ted Cruz, a 2016 Republican presidential candidate from Texas, rallied Monday with about 200 Estes supporters in a hangar stop near Eisenhower National Airport.
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“Our enemy right now is complacency,” said Cruz, who urged Estes fans to vote and take nine other people to the polls to continue the political change that started with the November election of President Trump.
In a race drawing national attention to what is usually a safe Republican district, Estes, the state treasurer, is locked in a surprisingly hard-fought battle with Thompson, a civil rights attorney. They seek to replace Mike Pompeo, who resigned in January to become director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Libertarian Chris Rockhold, a flight instructor, is also in the race.
Thompson said he’s not intimidated by Cruz’s appearance nor a late influx of $92,000 for Estes ads from the National Republican Congressional Committee.
“I think we’re in the lead right now,” Thompson said. “The beautiful thing we’ve seen here is that people are responding to our message. They did not like the negative attack ads against me.
“People just want to hear somebody who’s going to come out and listen to them and represent them in Washington.”
Estes said he, not Thompson, has the momentum in the race.
“People are energized; they want to make sure that we continue that change that started in November,” he said.
It’s the first major electoral test since Trump won the presidential election and the first of four congressional elections to fill seats vacated by Trump appointees.
Pompeo, a Wichita Republican, won re-election by 31 percentage points in November. The last time a Democrat won the district was in 1992.
But Republicans say they are in a tight race.
“I’ve heard people whose opinions I respect tell me they think it would be single digits,” said Clay Barker, the executive director of the Kansas Republican Party.
Trump and Vice President Mike Pence recorded robocalls to urge voters in the Wichita area to vote for Estes.
“Ron Estes needs your vote, and needs it badly,” the president says in the call to voters.
Both sides said they were working on getting out the vote.
Barker said that the party has focused on turning out diehard Republican voters.
“We always thought turnout would be 20 percent, maybe a little lower, so we focused on the voters that we had to get,” he said.
Nearly 13,000 GOP voters had cast ballots in advance by mail or in person compared to about 10,900 Democrats as of Monday morning, according to data provided by the Republican Party. Another 3,400 unaffiliated voters, who could tip the balance, had also cast ballots.
Getting out the vote
Both candidates were charging up some 4th District voters on Monday.
Dave Firsching, who owns a tree service in Wichita, said he hadn’t really planned to vote until he met Thompson on Monday at the downtown pocket park on Douglas. Now, he said, he’s voting for Thompson.
“It was good to see someone who cares enough to get out and talk to the people,” Firsching said.
He said they talked about the economy and the revitalization of downtown Wichita.
Jonathan Bender, an aircraft maintenance worker for Yingling Aviation, which hosted the Cruz rally, said he liked what he heard there.
“All of them (the speakers at the rally) speak to my moral and ethical values; that’s why I align myself with the Republican Party,” he said. “Of course, the right to life, health care reform, gun control, those are all issues that are near and dear to me anyway.”
Contributing: Oliver Morrison and Jonathan Shorman