Republican Ron Estes narrowly survived the special election in Kansas on Tuesday, which was seen as a first test of the resistance movement's power to oppose the Trump administration—but the GOP is hardly celebrating, and Democrats remain undeterred.
Estes, the Republican state treasurer, won the 4th District U.S. House seat vacated by now-CIA director Mike Pompeo by 53 percent to Democratic opponent and civil rights attorney James Thompson's 46 percent, a close result in a heavily Republican area that President Donald Trump took by 27 points in November.
Thompson's unexpectedly strong challenge is likely to galvanize Democrats in the 2018 midterms. His campaign, inspired by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), was supported almost entirely by individual small-dollar donors, while Estes had to lean on 11th-hour support from Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and a massive ad buy from the National Republican Congressional Committee to survive the race.
"We set out about 60, 75 days ago with people who told us we didn't stand a snowball's chance in hell of winning. And we've shown that this district is not just competitive but that we can win it," Thompson said.
Chris Pumpelly, a spokesman for his campaign, said Thompson would run for the seat again in 2018. The results show that "You fight. You play every game," Pumpelly said.
Chapman Rackaway, a political science professor at Fort Hays State University, told the Wichita Eagle that Kansas "Democrats are fired up and they're mobilizing." Many are looking to flip the 2nd District seat held by Rep. Lynn Jenkins or the 3rd District seat held by Rep. Kevin Yoder in 2018, the Eagle reports.
One Republican House member who was granted anonymity to speak candidly on the special election told CNN that the outcome should be viewed as a warning.
"This should be a wakeup call to the administration and the Republican Congress," the lawmaker said. "The Democratic base is fully mobilized and unlikely to be defused. We will have to beat them. That will take motivating our base. So far we have not."
However, the close margin in Tuesday's race could hamper Republican efforts to recruit candidates, according to Patrick Miller, a political science professor at the University of Kansas. Pompeo previously won the district in repeated landslides.
"They don't want to be explaining to them why Estes pulled off an underwhelming win in a district he should have won by 30 points," Miller told the Eagle.
Now, the resistance turns to Georgia, which holds a closely watched special election next week.