For those of you who are political junkies like me you probably followed April 11th’s election in the fourth congressional district in Kansas. This was the first election that would show the world how President Trump’s low approval numbers and Republican’s inability and reluctance to distance themselves from the unpopular president.
The remarkable thing for this election is that we are only four months into the Trump presidency, and the election in a district that was easily won in November by 30 points became a competitive race won by only seven points. For those of you who are not good at math that is a 23 point drop. Granted you have to take into account that in November the Candidate was an incumbent and on Tuesday’s election no candidate had the incumbency advantage. Although Ron Estes, the republican candidate, was a two term state treasurer with clear name recognition and track record with Kansas citizens. While James Thompson, the democratic candidate, had very little name recognition and no track record. And in special election that are only a few months long established name recognition is everything because there is little time to build that with the voter base.
Basic politics would show that when the leadership in a party is unpopular it can result in great political losses. In this case it resulted in a 23 point loss (and only a 7 point win). My assumption is that in 2018 Democrats are going to use the unpopularity of President Trump to their advantage. You can see that Thompson used the unpopularity of Governor Brownback as fuel. Just as Republican’s used the unpopularity of Hillary Clinton, President Obama, and other Democratic leadership in “Red States” where congressional races were close. The tactic was to use the unpopularity of National candidates and party leadership in those states to effect the popularity of a surging candidate in a close race. Take for example the senatorial race in Missouri, Jason Kander the Democratic candidate was up against incumbent Roy Blunt. After some polls showed Kander ahead of Blunt and ,all the polls showing that the race was tightening, Republicans deployed attack ads that connected Kander -with a 2 to 5 point race in Missouri- to Clinton -with a 10 to 30 point race in Missouri-. The plan was to use Clinton’s unpopularity among Missourians against Kander’s popularity with Missourians. This tactic proved to be remarkably effective, and is possibly the reason Kander lost the close race. Thompson used this the same way, and it’s likely that Democrats nationally will use this tactic. Their message will likely be that “Republicans are unpopular and ineffective.”
The Democrats may have also found a winning formula for candidates for the 2018 midterm. Running a TRULY grassroots campaign. Thompson took a page out of the Bernie Sanders playbook he ran a campaign almost entirely funded by his supporters. The result is that a candidate with little name recognition to a powerful candidate with a fighting chance. A message that the Democrats failed to present in 2016. This is not only a message to the Republicans that no seat is safe, but also a message to Democrats that they can win if they do it right.