The preliminary bouts are over and Rep. Ron Estes and civil rights lawyer James Thompson are headed for a rematch of their 2017 special election battle for the 4th congressional seat.
Both candidates easily disposed of their challengers in Tuesday’s primary. Rep. Estes, the Republican, dispensed with engineer Ron M. Estes by about a 4-1 margin.
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Thompson knocked out business and education consultant Laura Lombard by slightly less than a 2-1 margin on the Democratic side.
In victory speeches Tuesday night, both candidates laid into each other with a vengeance, a preview of things to come.
“Now my opponent, Ron Estes — one of them anyway — has won a primary tonight, so congratulations, Ron, whichever one made it through,” Thompson said. “But we know how his campaign is going to be run, and it’s going to run with mud and smears and lies again. And that’s because he doesn’t have anything to run on.”
Rep. Estes, who spoke to his supporters at the Wichita Area Builder’s Association headquarters slightly before Thompson, didn’t acknowledge Thompson’s win, although it was clear he too was cruising to victory in the primary. Estes did, however, embrace President Trump’s agenda, mentioning tax cuts and border enforcement specifically.
“As they (Thompson and Lombard) have fought to run to the left and they’re still battling — and probably will be long into the night — but you know we still don’t know what they’re for,” Estes said. “For the last year and a half we know what they’ve been against. They’ve been against everything the president is for.”
He also alleged the appearance in the race by Ron M. Estes was a setup by the Democrats.
“Despite Democrat dirty tricks and running against an imposter, we still prevailed,” Estes said.
Ron M. Estes, who joined wife Ellen at a League of Women Voters watch party, said he was happy to give thousands of Republicans a choice and didn’t regret running, despite the big margin of his loss.
“You can’t change things unless you put yourself out there,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think he’ll support the other Ron Estes in the general election.
Thompson has pounded Estes for being unavailable for debates and forums and has challenged the congressman to meet him in all 17 counties that make up the 4th Congressional District. During Thompson’s speech at Aero Plains Brewery, the crowd broke into a chant of “Where’s Ron?”
Minutes later at his party, Estes proposed three debates, ”making sure we can get our message of a good, fiscally conservative responsibility and see how bad the socialist message fails in Kansas.”
Thompson scored the biggest coup of the campaign so far when he brought Vermont senator and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to Wichita last month to campaign for him.
Along with rising Democratic Party star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders drew a loud and energetic crowd of 4,000. It was the largest rally for any candidate in Wichita, Republican or Democrat, in recent memory.
Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, who unseated the House Democratic caucus chair in a New York primary, call themselves democratic socialists — and that’s created a line of attack for Estes.
“Earlier this year the liberal democrats thought they could get a foothold in Kansas, got really excited,” Estes said in his victory speech. “They were bringing out Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and that just doesn’t fly in Kansas. We showed them what Kansas values are all about, and we’re going to continue to do that all the way to November.”
Thompson says he’s not a democratic socialist like Sanders, though he favors some of the same goals: Medicare for all, tuition-free college, $15 minimum wage, sympathy for immigrants.
He’s talked about all those as ideas that would be good for the country, especially people who are struggling to get by paycheck to paycheck.
“This win is about the movement,” Thompson said. “Those of you who have been paying attention know that there is something very special going on here in Kansas. We are riding that blue wave, and we are going to make great changes here.
“This is not about big money, it’s not about big names. It’s not about Bernie or Alexandria or me. This is about representing working Kansans.”
The last time the two met in an election was April last year after then-Congressman Mike Pompeo resigned to take a job as CIA director in the Trump administration. He’s since been promoted to secretary of state.
Thompson ran an aggressive race, losing by 53 to 46 percent. Encouraged by the strong showing, he immediately began campaigning for the rematch and has been working to build his strength in the rural counties where Estes beat him last time.