By Jim Ellis
Feb. 13, 2017 — The 126-member 4th District Republican Congressional Committee met in Wichita last week to choose a nominee with the objective of keeping the vacant US House seat under GOP control. CIA Director Mike Pompeo (R) resigned from Congress to accept President Trump’s appointment. Therefore, the special election to replace him is set for April 11.
Late last week, state Treasurer Ron Estes officially became the party standard bearer by capturing 66 of the 126 votes on the second ballot. He defeated Trump Transition Team member and presidential campaign official Alan Cobb, ex-US Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Wichita), former radio talk show host Joseph Ashby, and petroleum company CEO George Bruce. Wichita City Councilman Pete Meitzner had been campaigning for the seat, but decided not to enter the official local convention proceedings.
On the first ballot, Estes scored 58 votes, six short of claiming the nomination outright. Cobb was second with 28 secret ballot votes. Former eight-term US Rep. Tiahrt landed in the second tier of candidates, ahead of only Ashby and Bruce.
The former congressman was first elected in 1994, and then ran unsuccessfully for Senate in 2010 losing the Republican nomination to now-Sen. Jerry Moran by only a small margin. After leaving Congress, Tiahrt immediately moved to Colorado to accept a job in the private sector. He then returned to Wichita in 2014 and ran a hopeless and unnecessary primary challenge to Rep. Pompeo, losing by a 2:1 margin. Combined, all of these moves soured many Republican stalwarts on Tiahrt, culminating in what has to be deemed an embarrassing loss for him.
Local Democrats will convene on Saturday, and they are expected to choose former state Treasurer Dennis McKinney as their special election nominee. International business consultant Laura Lombard and former Wichita School Board member Kevass Harding appear to be McKinney’s main competition.
A re-match of sorts will occur if the Democrats do select McKinney. In 2010, Estes unseated then-Treasurer McKinney, knocking him from office with a 17-point statewide victory margin. In the 4th District, Estes’ margin soared to 25 points.
Democratic leaders are reportedly going to contest this special election if they get McKinney through Saturday’s convention. They again will attempt to take advantage of what they perceive as negative feelings among the electorate toward President Trump, and they will work to tie Estes to him. But, as they found out on Election Night, Trump possesses uncommon strength in areas like south-central Kansas, and if this again becomes their line of attack, the Republicans will notch another victory.
In November, President Trump carried the 4th District with a 60.2 – 33.0 percent margin over Hillary Clinton. This result perfectly matches Rep. Pompeo’s vote history, a string of four victories when he attracted 59, 62, 67, and 61 percent from 2010 through 2016, respectively.
As previously mentioned, Ron Estes has been the Kansas treasurer since the beginning of 2011, and before that he served Sedgwick County in a similar position. He becomes a heavy favorite to retain the seat for Republicans, and the special general election will move full steam ahead come Sunday morning.