Congressional candidates Laura Lombard and James Thompson have spent a lot of time shaking hands with rural voters lately.
Those folks were the decisive factor in last year’s special election to fill the seat vacated when Rep. Mike Pompeo went to Washington to join the Trump administration, and both Democratic candidates have taken that lesson to heart.
Neither Thompson nor Lombard ever really stopped campaigning after the special election and they’ll face each other in an Aug. 7 primary to carry their party’s standard into a likely rematch with incumbent Republican Rep. Ron Estes.
In terms of issues, there’s not a lot of difference between the two.
▪ Both oppose the Trump tariffs on imported goods that they say are hurting Kansas farmers and manufacturers as other countries retaliate with tariffs of their own on U.S. products.
▪ Both oppose Trump’s policy of separating immigrant parents from their children. They want a more orderly and humane immigration system including a path to citizenship for DREAMers, unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and grew up here.
▪ Both support universal health care and an increase in the minimum wage, so that people at the bottom of the economic ladder can make enough to live on.
Diverging on guns
One area where there is some daylight between Lombard and Thompson is on gun control.
“I’ve taken a stronger position on gun violence prevention than James has,” Lombard said. “I would vote for banning the manufacturing of AR-15s. I’ve talked a lot about the laws being uniform across the nation at a higher common denominator . . . to prevent criminals from getting guns in states that have less stringent laws and bringing them into states that do.”
She also promises to push for stricter laws to hold parents responsible if their children commit illegal acts with family firearms.
Thompson is more of a gun guy.
To avoid mass and accidental shootings, he calls for increased funding for mental health and a safety-class requirement for first-time gun buyers “the same way you do for a hunting license.”
“We shouldn’t have bans, but we need to put safety regulations in place to make sure we don’t have the events we’ve been seeing,” Thompson said.
There’s no question that the Wichita area is the beating heart of the district that includes most of south-central Kansas. Out of 670,000 citizens, 500,000 live in Sedgwick County.
Thompson, a civil rights lawyer and the Democratic nominee in the special election, won Sedgwick County but lost the election to Estes in the outer counties. He blames the short campaign time frame.
“The special we only had 60 days,” he said. “The amount of time you have to get everything done and get a campaign organized, it’s hard to get to all 16 and a half counties.”
But ever since then, he’s been on the road introducing himself around in places like Winfield, Wellington and Pratt.
“This time around, we’ve had time to do that,” he said. “That’s why I went back to campaigning immediately, because I knew that everyone that had run in the past has basically started in the year of the elections, they weren’t able to get it done and they lost by huge margins. So I bucked that trend and just immediately started campaigning and getting out to the rural areas so people could get to know me; have events where they could come in and ask questions, be available to people.”
Lombard, an international trade and educational consultant, said she’s spending about a third of her campaign time in the outer counties and has teams there to carry her message door to door.
“Rural areas have been ignored by both Republicans and Democrats in the past,” she said. “It’s time to not ignore our rural communities and really get out there and talk with people, understand what the real issues are out there for people and it’s not necessarily the ones that people think.
“We’re hearing farm bill, trade tariffs, water, marijuana — that’s a big one — health care, education, roads. We’re hearing those things 10 times more than we’re hearing some of the stereotypical issues that are associated with rural communities (such as) abortion and guns.”
Thompson pulled off the biggest coup in this year’s campaign so far when he got progressive icon Bernie Sanders and rising Democratic star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to come to Kansas to campaign for him.
That rally drew 4,000 cheering fans to the Century II concert hall on a Friday afternoon, along with national media coverage about the progressive movement reaching out into deep red Trump-supporting states.
Lombard took it as a sign that Thompson is worried about her.
“It’s probably a compliment to the work we’ve put in in the last year that it was felt such big guns were needed to come in to help my opponent’s campaign,” she said.
The two come from dissimilar backgrounds.
Thompson grew up poor and, at times, even homeless. He credits a high school teacher and the Army with giving him the self-discipline to rise above the street and go to college and law school.
He said he didn’t think much about politics when he was young and it’s given him insight into why it’s hard to get poor people out to vote.
“The basic hierarchy of needs doesn’t get to politics until you’ve satisfied basic things like eating, sleeping, putting clothes on your back,” he said. “When you’re trying to make ends meet or worrying about whether you can pay rent or put food on the table, you aren’t really too concerned about what some guy from Washington is going to come in and say to you.”
Lombard touts her experience in international trade and roots in Kansas, where she grew up.
She worked as a trade consultant in Washington before returning to the Sunflower State and working a remote job with an international company that provides online education and job development training.
“I have a very strong economic background that I think is going to be extremely helpful to both our district in Kansas and the nation as a whole, should I win,” she said.