U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder does not seem at all worried about the recent special election in and around Wichita. Political pundits are trying to connect the dots between a somewhat close race in the deep red 4th Congressional District and Yoder’s future in the more moderate 3rd District, which includes mostly Johnson and Wyandotte counties.
Yoder, a Republican, has lots of reasons not to worry. One big factor is the distinct possibility he will run for governor in 2018, forgoing a re-election campaign for his congressional seat. Personally, I believe that is exactly what he will do. And he would be formidable.
But assuming instead that Yoder seeks a fifth term in Congress, does the measly seven-point spread in the 4th District contest between Republican Ron Estes and Democrat James Thompson serve as a warning shot to Yoder? After all, Donald Trump won that district by 27 points.
The comparisons are absolutely ridiculous. As Yoder and I discussed over lunch, there is no serious cause for concern.
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That was a low-turnout special election, and many believe Democrats organized an impassioned anti-Trump, anti-Sam Brownback crusade, while Republicans were less motivated. This has nothing to do with what might happen in November 2018 in a high-turnout election when Kansans go to the polls en masse to pick a new governor. In that scenario, Republicans, who far outnumber Democrats in Yoder’s district, would be highly charged and organized, not sapped by apathy as they were in Wichita.
Also note that there was no incumbent in the special election. You think that isn’t a huge deal? Republican Ron Estes reportedly raised only $400,000. Based on past trends, Yoder would raise $4 million in a re-election campaign. Furthermore, Yoder has amassed tremendous name identification and has worked his district diligently, building a fortress of support.
Incumbency almost always guarantees re-election. Consider this: If Mike Pompeo, former 4th District congressman who left to run the Central Intelligence Agency, had been running for re-election, do you think he would have won by only seven points? He probably would have beaten Thompson by 20 points or more.
Remember in the 2016 race when the pundits got all in a dither because they incorrectly sensed Democrat Jay Sidie could upset Yoder? The Democrats nationally poured in some $2 million for Sidie. What did that buy them? A loss to Yoder by 11 points. Every time Yoder has run, he has kept the Democratic opponent to about 40 percent of the vote.
Here’s another reason the special election results foreshadow absolutely nothing relating to Yoder: There will be no Gov. Sam Brownback to beat up on in 2018. Brownback almost certainly will leave early for an ambassadorship, but no matter what, he cannot run again for governor. One of the most unpopular governors in America, Brownback undoubtedly hurt Estes, who was state treasurer under the current governor. Democrats linked the two together.
Of course, Estes didn’t help himself much. He was a weak candidate, and he ran one of the dumbest political commercials in recent times. He stood in a swamp. The point, supposedly, was that he would drain it. But you don’t drain a swamp by standing in it. What a visual nightmare.
Those who want to fantasize about exporting the results of the special election to Yoder’s district should realize that Yoder has kept arms-length from Trump. Yoder has bucked the president on several major issues. The congressman loudly protested Trump’s proposal to make deep cuts in the National Institutes of Health, and Yoder has supported internet privacy, again in conflict with Trump’s agenda. Yoder has never been a big Trump fan, and it would be difficult to tie the two together.
To make the giant leap from a quirky special election result to a Yoder upset at the hands of a Democrat in a major election is pure folly. It is incredible how many in the media try so hard to link the two different galaxies.