National Republicans pour last-minute money into Estes-Thompson race

Candidates for the 4th District congressional seat Ron Estes and James Thompson.
Candidates for the 4th District congressional seat Ron Estes and James Thompson. File photos

With less than a week to go until Election Day, a national Republican group has stepped into Kansas’ 4th District race, spending $92,000 supporting Republican Ron Estes and opposing his Democratic rival James Thompson, federal forms show.

The National Republican Congressional Committee on Wednesday purchased $67,111 worth of television advertising from KSN, KWCH, KAKE and KSAS stations in the Wichita TV market, according to a disclosure form filed by KSNW-TV.

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The money is being used to run an attack-ad blitz on Thompson in the closing days of the campaign.

Also Wednesday, the NRCC filed a daily expenditure report with the Federal Election Commission showing $25,000 for digital advertising going to FP1 Strategies, a Washington campaign consulting firm whose slogan is “We win the tough ones.”

The 25,000 was split evenly on digital campaigning, half going to support Estes and half going to oppose Thompson, the filing showed.

The expenditures are “independent,” meaning the money and ad content do not flow through Estes’ campaign.

“We’re happy to help in this small way and show our support for Ron Estes,” NRCC spokesman Matt Gorman said in an e-mail. “We look forward to Ron coming to Congress and standing up for Kansas values.”

A spokesman for the Thompson campaign said the expenditures show national Republicans have “hit the panic button” in the race.

“There are people in Washington who are very concerned about Ron Estes’ performance in this election,” said Chris Pumpelly. “They would not be doing this if this were in hand for Estes.”

Estes’ campaign spokesman could not be reached for comment.

The 11th-hour funding from the national GOP prompted Cook’s Political Report on Thursday to move the race from “Solid Republican” to “Likely Republican” in its ratings.

The national political news service noted that Republicans have a whopping 15 percent edge in its Partisan Voting Index for the district and that Estes remains the favorite.

However, the report said, “special elections can be extremely low-turnout affairs, and the NRCC’s ad, which accuses Thompson of supporting late-term abortion, is a sure indication that Republicans are concerned about their base’s engagement at a time when (President) Trump’s approval rating is in the high 30s nationally and GOP Gov. Sam Brownback’s approval is mired in the 20s.”

In what could be another indicator the race may be tightening, the Kansas and Sedgwick County Republican party organizations sent an “urgent alert” to their activists Thursday evening, urging them to come out for a “Super Saturday” of walking precincts and making phone calls for Estes.

“Help us keep KS-04 red,” the e-mail message said. “We need all of our Republican activists on the frontlines this Saturday!

“Democrats are trying to show the nation that 2016 was a one-time setback,” the notice continued. “Your help is needed to get our conservative message out and make sure 4th District Republicans make it to the polls on April 11!”

Estes and Thompson are running in a special election Tuesday to fill the open congressional seat vacated by former Rep. Mike Pompeo. Libertarian Chris Rockhold is also in the race.

Pompeo, who won his fourth congressional term in the November election, resigned in January to accept President Trump’s nomination as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The Wichita-centered 4th District includes voters in 17 counties in south-central Kansas.

Wichita political analysts differ on what the last-quarter intervention might mean about the race.

Kenneth Ciboski, who recently retired as a political science professor at Wichita State University, said he thinks the primary reason for the late Republican expenditure is for the national campaign committee to “cover their bases” for the future

“It’s likely Estes will be the winner,” and the committee wants to be on his good side, said Ciboski, who is active in Republican politics.

If someday the committee wants Estes’ help in campaigning or fundraising, “He can’t say, ‘You didn’t support me,’ ” Ciboski said.

Ciboski added that while he thinks an Estes win is likely, “I think this race may be a lot closer than people think.”

Russell Arben Fox, a professor of political science at Friends University who is active in Democratic politics, said he thinks the spending could mean that national Republicans are worried about the special election.

He said that party registration and other traditional factors favor Estes and a win by Thompson would be an upset.

But, he said, Thompson has a more energized base of support in what is expected to be a low-turnout election.

Thompson’s campaign has had a more robust presence on the Web and social media than Estes’, Fox said. And, he said Thompson supporters seem to be younger and more tech- and social-media savvy than Estes supporters.

On its website, FP1 touts services including “compelling content on social and email to raise money, educate voters and drive activism,” as well as “around-the-clock social media monitoring to track and get-ahead of emerging trends.”

Contributing: Bryan Lowry, Alex Roarty and Lindsay Wise of McClatchy News

Dion Lefler: 316-268-6527, @DionKansas

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