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Kansas Holds Special Election To Replace CIA Director Mike Pompeo


The White House is a very busy place these days with Syria, health care, the wall. Yet yesterday, some Kansas voters got this message on their phones from President Trump.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Hello. This is President Donald Trump, and I have something big to tell you. This Tuesday, April 11, there is a very important special election for Congress in Kansas.

CORNISH: Today's special election in Kansas is 1 of 4 this spring and summer to replace members of the House that Trump appointed to his Cabinet. The Fourth District in Kansas is pretty Republican. It's home to Wichita and the rural areas around it. Trump won there by 27 points, and Mike Pompeo, who is now the CIA director, won by even more. But this spring, things haven't been so simple.

DANIEL SALAZAR: Honestly, I think a lot of Republicans thought it would be a fairly straightforward election.

CORNISH: Daniel Salazar has been covering the race for the Wichita Eagle. The Republican candidate is Ron Estes, the former state treasurer with ties to the area who hasn't shied away from Donald Trump or his message with this commercial, where he's literally standing in a swamp.


RON ESTES: I'm Ron Estes. After eight years of Obama, America is weaker and the swamp is deeper than we thought.

CORNISH: But the Democrat, James Thompson, an Army veteran and civil rights lawyer, is too close for comfort for the Republicans.

SALAZAR: Like you said, they're pulling out all the stops. They're really covering all their bases when you have not only Trump and Pence recording robocalls as well as a fundraising email from Paul Ryan and then most notably, yesterday, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas visiting.


TED CRUZ: This race matters, and it matters nationally. The eyes of the country are upon it. This is the first significant election since the November election, and it is important that Kansas elect Ron Estes to Congress.

SALAZAR: And it's worth noting that Cruz is very popular among Republican circles here in Kansas. He very handedly won the caucus last year, as well, along with Senator Sanders on the other side. So they're really covering all their bases by having both a conservative figure like Cruz as well as the president.

CORNISH: Now, I want to step back for a moment because Governor Sam Brownback in Kansas has enacted a budget that has drawn some backlash - right? - in recent years. And so 2016 was actually a fairly decent year for moderates in Kansas. So is it fair for people to look at this as a kind of a proxy race for what's going on nationally?

SALAZAR: I would say so. It also seems to have become a proxy race for the policies that Brownback has enacted on the state level. I mean, Thompson brings up Brownback's name and tries to tie it to Estes as much as he can. And as you noted, a lot of moderate Republicans and Democrats were able to be elected to Topeka in part by campaigning against the governor on rolling back big parts of his tax plan, as well as encouraging that we expand Medicaid in the state.

CORNISH: So Democrats who are looking to this state with some hope and Republicans who are looking at it as seeing it - this race as something they need to shore up, it sounds like you're saying they're right to do so. Both parties are right to have this approach.

SALAZAR: Yeah, I think both see what is at stake in this election, just symbolically it being the first of several districts, you know. And obviously, most of these districts are in very red states, like Montana, South Carolina and Georgia. So the idea that there would be a strong showing from Democrats in a place like the Fourth District in Kansas certainly sends alarm bells up, especially ahead of the 2018 midterm.

CORNISH: That's Daniel Salazar of the Wichita Eagle. Thank you for speaking with us.

SALAZAR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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