Politics & Government

Anti-Thompson ad inflammatory and false, says professor who moderated debate

Democrat James Thompson participates in a debate on March 23. Thompson is running against Republican Ron Estes and Libertarian Chris Rockhold to replace Mike Pompeo. (March 23, 2017)
Democrat James Thompson participates in a debate on March 23. Thompson is running against Republican Ron Estes and Libertarian Chris Rockhold to replace Mike Pompeo. (March 23, 2017) The Wichita Eagle

A nationally funded Republican ad attacking Democratic congressional candidate James Thompson is inflammatory and untrue, according to the university professor who moderated the debate on which the ad was based.

Russell Fox, a Friends University professor of political science, published a lengthy Facebook post late Friday night in which he called the ad, which supports Republican candidate Ron Estes, an “inflammatory last-minute bit of agitprop.”

Agitprop is political shorthand for propaganda designed to agitate voters.

The ad is part of a $92,000 buy by the National Republican Congressional Committee last week leading up to Tuesday’s 4th Congressional District election to choose a successor to former Rep. Mike Pompeo.

The ad says that Thompson supports taxpayer funding of late-term abortions and abortion for couples to select the sex of their offspring. Thompson has called the ad false and asked that local TV stations pull it from their broadcasts.

Democratic candidate James Thompson has called this ad false and asked that local TV stations pull it from their broadcasts.

Matt Gorman, communications director for the NRCC, has said on Twitter that “the ad is still airing and is 100% accurate.”

The NRCC attributes its ad to a debate for Democratic congressional hopefuls on Feb. 8 at Friends University. Fox, an active Democrat, moderated the discussion between Thompson and four other candidates seeking the party’s nomination for Tuesday’s special election.

“That forum took place at Friends University, and I moderated it, and know exactly what was said about abortion that night, because I was the one who asked the candidates the questions,” Fox wrote.

“Thompson is pro-choice. But there was nothing – NOTHING – said that evening, by anyone, about “late-term abortions” or “sex-selective abortions.”

During the debate, Thompson, a lawyer, said he felt the abortion issue was settled by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, which upheld a woman’s right to an abortion but allowed for increasingly strict regulation in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.

Thompson also said he did not want the government involved in his daughter’s health care or reproductive decisions and that he would strongly consider voting against the Hyde Amendment that bans federal funding of most abortions, should it come up for another vote in Congress.

On that, Fox wrote: “I can tell you: I was there, I asked that question, I heard what was said, and it WASN’T what is being claimed in this ad.”

The Estes campaign issued a news release Saturday afternoon saying that Thompson’s “stated opposition to any restriction on abortion” would allow late-term and sex-selection abortions.

They quoted Thompson’s reply on the question about the Hyde Amendment: “As Congressman, I would take action against any kind of legislation that’s going to prohibit reproductive rights. So if it is any kind of bill, any kind of legislation that is going to infringe upon a woman’s right to make those choices for herself, I’m going to be against it, and I’m going to act against it.”

On Saturday, Thompson said, “I trust women to make their own health decisions and I support the current law.”

“That’s the only thing I was trying to get across” at the debate, he added. “Even Dr. Fox said the position of the Estes campaign is not consistent with what was said.”

Fox’s post touched off a lengthy Facebook debate between Thompson and Estes supporters that continued to rage into Saturday afternoon.

Benjamin Hodge, a Republican former state legislator from Johnson County, wrote in support of the NRCC ad, saying it was appropriate to extrapolate Thompson’s comments to include late-term abortions and sex selection.

“What is obvious to just about everyone but you is that ‘a woman’s right to choose’ is a phrase that means ‘at any time, for any reason, by any method; because a fetus is a non-living piece of tissue which has no rights, which can be viewed as a complete inconvenience to a mother, and which by definition can be removed by any means necessary by an abortionist without any legal risk to the abortionist.’ 

He also called Fox’s post a “super-duper silly statement not worthy of an 8th grader.”

The 11th-hour intervention by the NRCC touched off speculation among political observers that national Republicans were intervening in the race because they were worried Thompson, who has run an energetic campaign, could overcome a heavy Republican voter-registration advantage and win what is expected to be a low-turnout election.

The Washington-based Cook Political Report this week moved the race from “Solid Republican” to “Likely Republican.” And The Hill reported Republicans were “suddenly sweating election in deep-red Kansas district.”

In addition to the cash infusion by the NRCC, Vice President Mike Pence has recorded a pro-Estes robocall and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the winner of the 2016 Kansas Republican presidential caucus, will visit Wichita on Monday to make a campaign appearance on Estes’ behalf.

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