Elections

Cruz, Ryan – and maybe Pence – aiding Estes as congressional election looms

Sen. Ted Cruz on Feb. 23, 2017 in National Harbor, Md.
Sen. Ted Cruz on Feb. 23, 2017 in National Harbor, Md. Tribune

National Republicans are seeking to boost Ron Estes in the final stretch of his congressional campaign, with House Speaker Paul Ryan, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and maybe Vice President Mike Pence providing assistance.

Cruz, a former GOP presidential candidate, is expected to appear with Estes at a rally Monday afternoon in Wichita.

Ryan made a pitch to GOP donors last week on the candidate’s behalf. And Pence was expected to record a robo-call for Estes on Friday.

Estes, the state treasurer, has been battling Democrat James Thompson, a civil rights attorney, and Libertarian Chris Rockhold to replace former Rep. Mike Pompeo in the 4th District. The election is Tuesday.

The National Republican Congressional Committee also pumped $92,000 into the race on Estes’ behalf earlier this week, for TV and digital advertising. Thompson’s campaign has disputed the accuracy of an ad that focuses on his abortion stance and asked that it be pulled.

The Washington-based Cook Political Report, which tracks congressional races, downgraded the race from “solidly Republican” to “leans Republican” this week, citing the NRCC’s late spending as a sign Republicans are concerned about the race.

Estes has held a relatively small fundraising advantage over Thompson, outraising him by about $30,000. Few public polls on the race have been available.

Special elections ‘weird’

Thompson campaign manager Colin Curtis said Thompson is focused on turning out voters and that the Republican efforts won’t change their strategy.

“To us, it just reinforces they’re panicking. They see the numbers, they see the operations we have here, and they see how good a candidate Jim is,” Curtis said.

Clay Barker, the executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, said the party had always planned a surge of activity in the final weeks of the election and that the push from national Republicans should not be interpreted as a sign the campaign is in danger.

“Special elections are weird. They’re unique because it’s off time. There’s no similar election you can look at. … It’s hard to figure out who exactly your voters are,” Barker said.

Barker said he had made the request for Pence to record a robocall on Estes’ behalf and believed that the vice president would be making the recording Friday.

“I know a lot of people just thought it would be a blow-over,” Barker said. “We always remind people about Anthony Weiner’s seat going Republican in a special election.”

Reaching ‘shared supporters’

Cruz is expected to appear with Estes at 3:30 p.m. Monday at Yingling Aviation, at Eisenhower National Airport, the Estes campaign said.

The event represents a “reach-out to shared supporters” between Estes and Cruz, Estes said.

“A lot of folks supporting me also support Ted Cruz,” Estes said.

Cruz gained national prominence for his hard-line conservative stances in the Senate, and was the last major Republican candidate who sought to stop Donald Trump from securing the GOP presidential nomination.

He won the Kansas Republican caucuses in March 2016 by double digits.

“He’s very popular here locally among the base. This is clearly going to be a base election … and bringing in Sen. Cruz is going to help elevate Estes’ campaign and bring more of that base to the polls on Tuesday,” said Mark Kahrs, the state’s Republican national committeeman, who served as Cruz’s state chair during the 2016 election.

Advertising

Ryan put out a fundraising plea to Republican donors on Estes’ behalf. “I am personally reaching out to you today to help strengthen our House majority by electing Ron Estes in Kansas’ Fourth Congressional District,” the Wisconsin Republican says in the e-mail to Republican donors that was sent out last week.

Ryan also sent Estes $5,000 from his leadership PAC in February after meeting him, according to an aide.

The National Republican Congressional Committee purchased more than $67,000 worth of TV advertising from local stations and put another $25,000 into digital advertising.

On Friday, the Thompson campaign asked KWCH to pull one of the ads, which attacks Thompson on abortion. The ad says Thompson supports using tax dollars to pay for late-term abortions and supports sex-selective abortions.

Curtis called the ad “outright false.”

Matt Gorman, director of communications for the NRCC, said on Twitter the ad was “100 percent accurate” and is still airing.

Dominic Gauna, director of KWCH community relations, said Friday evening that the station had received the request from the campaign and has asked the NRCC to provide information about its claims.

‘Don’t get complacent’

Kansas House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said he had always believed that Democrats stood a chance to win the congressional seat. He said Thompson had excited grassroots voters.

He warned that the sense that the race has grown more competitive could help drive Republican turnout similar to 2014, when Sen. Pat Roberts and Gov. Sam Brownback overcame tough challengers on the strength of GOP turnout.

Chapman Rackaway, a political scientist at Fort Hays State University, said Estes likely was counting on “a good, established statewide name” as the twice-elected state treasurer to carry him to an easy victory.

“You see this when a party has a big win. … The party in power can end up slacking a little bit, not mobilizing well for special elections like this,” said Rackaway, a former Republican strategist.

Rackaway said Cruz’s visit is meant to send a message to Republican voters that “the team needs you to come out and vote.”

“This is a reminder of what the stakes are for the president and Republicans nationally. … Don’t get complacent. This is important,” Rackaway said.

Contributing: Katie Glueck of the McClatchy Washington bureau

Jonathan Shorman: 785-296-3006, @jonshorman

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