Tuesday's special election in Kansas could have ignited a heap load of anxiety for the national GOP and the Republican brand. But it was not to be.
The GOP candidate Ron Estes prevailed, but only by a surprising 7 points. The departing Congressman Mike Pompeo (now CIA director) won the district overwhelmingly by 31 points in November.
Donald TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 committee chair says panel will issue a 'good number' of additional subpoenas Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Pentagon officials prepare for grilling Biden nominates head of Africa CDC to lead global AIDS response MORE won it by a whopping 27 points.
This congressional district is solidly Republican.
What would you expect?
Yes, it includes the city of Wichita, but this is Kansas.
The Governor is a Republican. The entire House delegation is Republican. Both Senators are Republican. Democrats sometimes elect a Democratic governor, but when the voters are asked to send one of their own to Washington they don't favor a Democrat.
The last Democratic U.S. Senator from Kansas was George McGill. He was elected in 1932. This Democratic drought can not be matched by any other state.
When it comes to Presidential politics you can't get much redder. The last time a Democrat won Kansas was 1964. That was the Johnson landslide.
Nobody but nobody draws up a possible list of states in the presidential race and says out loud Kansas is in play, or Kansas is moving toward being a purple state. No Democratic Presidential candidate asks the political director "to make sure we visit the Jayhawker state."
No, this flat state in the middle of the country is definitely fly-over-country when it comes to the Democratic Party.
The Republican winner in the special election, Ron Estes, had much superior name recognition. He was the State treasurer, serving his second term.
The Democratic candidate James Thompson was always described as "Wichita civil rights lawyer." And if that was not enough to alienate non-city dwellers living in the district (21 percent rural), he prided himself as being a Bernie SandersBernie SandersDo progressives prefer Trump to compromise? Texas House Republican tests positive for coronavirus in latest breakthrough case In defense of share buybacks MORE Democrat.
The Republicans got scared late in this race and realized that they were in trouble. They knew that they would have to turnout a huge vote in the rural areas. The turnout was lackluster, but still enough for the GOP candidate to win. Republican voter turnout for the special election was down 62 percent compared to November; for Democrats the turnout on Tuesday was down 32 percent compared to presidential election. That partially explains why the race remained so tight.
The late polls which showed the GOP candidate having a single digit lead was the key factor in waking up the Republican base in the district.
It really would have been a giant political miracle for the Democrat to win this district. That a Democrat made the race competitive is in itself a story.
In this case the massive unpopularity of the Republican Gov. Sam Brownback might have aided the Democrat, in some measure. Brownback's tenure as Governor and most important his governing philosophy and ideology should be a subject for a future column. Suffice it to say, that this republican Governor and his views do not add luster to the GOP label. Even in bedrock conservative Kansas.
For national Democrats, it's now on to Georgia this coming Tuesday, April 18. This special election is in their grasp. The major problem that all Democratic candidates seem to have is in non-city areas. Rural voters don't like Democrats and aren't afraid to turn out and show it.
In all the special elections to follow, Dems have to do appreciably better than they have been doing in these neglected areas.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), in viewing his own defeat in the Presidential contest in 2016 memorably said there is whole lot of difference between 25 percent and 35 percent.
Kansas once again demonstrated that to become truly competitive throughout the country, you must show up where you are not popular and make some new friends. Otherwise you will continue to be shut out and lose.
Mark Plotkin is a contributor to the BBC on American politics and a columnist for The Georgetowner. Previously, he was the political analyst for WAMU-FM, Washington's NPR affiliate, where he co-hosted the "D.C. Politics Hour With Mark Plotkin." He later became the political analyst for WTOP-FM, Washington's all-news radio station, where he hosted "The Politics Hour With Mark Plotkin." He is a winner of the Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in writing.
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