James Thompson wants national Democrats to do more to elect candidates after his narrow loss in a race where Republicans unloaded heavy firepower to assure a win.
Thompson lost to Republican Ron Estes, 45.7 percent to 52.5 percent, in Tuesday’s special congressional election. Former Republican congressman Mike Pompeo won the seat by 31 percentage points in November.
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National Democratic groups, such as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee, need to compete everywhere, Thompson contended.
“We’ve sent a message that no Republican district in this country is safe. (DCCC) and DNC need to be doing a 50-state strategy,” Thompson said.
The National Republican Congressional Committee channeled $92,000 into the race in its final days. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz stumped with Estes in Wichita. And President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence both recorded robocalls for the Republican candidate.
The DCCC launched a phone campaign Monday aimed at encouraging voter turnout.
But no major national Democratic figures comparable to Cruz parachuted into the district to campaign, nor did Democratic groups match the financial resources of the Republicans.
Democrats and pundits immediately began asking whether the outcome might have been different if Democratic groups – such as the DCCC, the Democratic National Committee and the Kansas Democratic Party – had done more to help Thompson.
“What did DFA do prior to the last few days?” Democratic operative Dana Houle asked on Twitter, referring to Democracy for America, a political action committee founded by former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean.
Even when it came to phone banking, Republicans did more than the Democrats, said Chapman Rackaway, a political science professor at Fort Hays State University.
“Normally a candidate with a good shot in a special election would be enough to at least draw some DCCC money, but making calls the night before is too little, too late,” Rackaway said.
Thompson said extra resources may have made a difference.
“The Democratic leadership came in last weekend, we started getting help,” Thompson said.
“I think if we had had more help early on, we may have been able to win it, but it’s hard to tell because it’s such a short time period and trying to get the word out, it’s kind of hard to know. But having help earlier I think would have been better.”
The DCCC did not directly answer a question from McClatchy on Monday about its lack of spending in the race.
In a statement late Tuesday, the organization said the 4th District is “ruby red and should never have been on the table” as competitive. The DCCC congratulated Thompson for forcing Republicans to spend money in order to hold the seat.
“Beyond that, it’s clear that grassroots supporters will continue to play a pivotal role in the 2018 midterms by supporting and energizing House Democratic candidates deep into the map,” spokeswoman Meredith Kelly said.
Generally, national Democrats say overt involvement on their part would have been counterproductive. If the DCCC had run TV ads, for instance, Republicans would have made that a focal point of their criticism in a district where voters deeply dislike the national party.
“That does not escape the attention of voters,” said Ian Russell, who served as the DCCC’s political director last year. “If national Democrats come in, that becomes a campaign issue.”
The party has taken a similar approach in another special House race, in Georgia, where the DCCC has avoided running TV ads despite a deluge of Republican spending.
“You have to let these races unfold in their unique milieu and not turn it into a partisan proxy war,” Russell said.
At the state level, the Thompson campaign became involved in a public dispute with the Kansas Democratic Party last month over a rejected request for $20,000 to use for mailers.
Campaign manager Colin Curtis said at the time that state Democrats had the opportunity to win the district for the first time in 23 years but that it felt like a lot of the current establishment of the party was “sitting on the sidelines.” Party executive committee member Tom Witt said then the party didn’t have the money.
KDP chairman John Gibson made no reference to the dispute in a statement after Thompson’s loss. He said he was proud of Thompson’s hard work and dedication.
“James made this election far closer than any pundit predicted,” Gibson said.
Contributing: Alex Roarty of McClatchy