Wednesday Apr. 12, 2017

Kansas Special Election Could Mean Big Gains for Democrats in 2018

Despite the loss, last night's special election in Kansas shows good signs for the Democrats should the defining characteristics hold through the 2018 election.

Overall, according to the unofficial total, major party votes were cast in last night's special election. Republican Ron Estes defeated Democrat James Thompson by 8,195 votes, winning 52.5 percent of the total vote and 53.4 percent of the major party vote—a 6.8-point margin.

When comparing this margin to recent elections in this district, the numbers are astounding. In the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump carried the district with 64.6 percent of the major party vote.

Even though, as expected, the total turnout was far below that of a normal presidential or midterm election, the share of the vote for each county was remarkably consistent with the presidential vote shares in 2016, making these results potentially more meaningful.

For example Sedgwick County (Wichita), the largest county in the district, contributed 67.9 percent of the total vote in the special election compared to 68.0 percent in the presidential election. This pattern was also discernible in the four other counties producing at least 9,000 total votes, which together accounted for 23.5 percent of the special election total vote, compared to 23.9 percent in the 2016 presidential election total vote. Thus the rural vote share was also almost identical.

The highlight of the evening was that Thompson actually won Sedgwick County amassing 51.2 percent of the major party vote—a margin of 1,874 votes. Despite it's more urban makeup, Sedgwick County is by no means a Democratic area. Even Paul Davis, the strong Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2014 who nearly won statewide, failed to carry Sedgwick County. In fact, Davis lost every county in the 4th Congressional District, as did Hillary Clinton.

The Democratic Performance in the 4th District is 39.3 percent, further showcasing the significant Republican advantage. Overall, the Thompson campaign exceeded typical Democratic Performance by 7.3 percentage points. From a national perspective, a similar spike in Democratic support in 2018 would result in massive midterm gains for Democrats. In fact, last night's results suggest that there may be multiple opportunities in Kansas, where Democrats will look to run strong candidates in the 2nd Congressional District, which will be an open seat, and also in the marginal 3rd Congressional District.