The first referendum on the Trump era will happen today in Kansas


Voters in Kansas's 4th Congressional District will head to the polls for the first congressional election since Trump's presidential victory in November. The race to fill the seat once held by Trump CIA Director Mike Pompeo has largely been ignored by the national press because of Kansas' deep-red conservative politics — Trump won the district by 27 points — until, that is, the Democrat surged.

Over the last few weeks, signs indicate that Democratic candidate James Thompson, a Bernie Sanders-inspired political outsider, might have a shot. Early voting among Democrats is way up in the district, and Thompson has raised an unusually large amount of money through grassroots fundraising — thanks in no part to the national Democratic Party.

As a result, Republicans are in full-on panic mode. Over the past few days, the GOP has injected Republican candidate Ron Estes' campaign with a last-minute infusion of cash, dispatched firebrand conservative Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to campaign in the small Kansas district and recorded robocalls by both the Trump and Vice President Mike Pence — all to nail down what should have been a lay-up.

No matter how the race turns out, it stands as a sign of how powerful anti-Trump sentiment can be, even in unexpected places. And the early special elections to fill seats vacated by Trump's political appointments are just getting started.

If Thompson loses by a small margin in deep-red Kansas, it'll be a bad sign for Republicans in next week's special election in another patch of political red, Georgia's 6th Congressional District, where Hillary Clinton lost by just one point. What's more, it will be a model for how Democrats run campaigns against Trump in the 2018 midterm elections, when, for the first time in 10 years, Republicans don't have Barack Obama or Clinton to run against.

The Kansas race is also a bellwether for the future of the Democratic Party in red states. The district happens to be the headquarters of the Koch brothers' corporate goliath, Koch Industries, and Thompson is running on an anti-billionaire message. If a progressive Berniecrat can pull off an upset, it will lay out a potential road map for how Democrats can win in other deep-red states.

Related: Wyoming is a longer-shot for Democrats than even Kansas, but it's still noteworthy that the Bernie Sanders wing of the party has mounted a takeover there too, ousting Clinton loyalists from their positions in state party offices.


Today: Special election in Kansas' 4th Congressional District

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