HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

Dems making close race in Kansas, in 1st congressional contest under Trump

April 10, 2017: Kansas GOP congressional candidate Ron Estes, left, with Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz. Yingling Aviation, Wichita, Kansas. (AP)

April 10, 2017: Kansas GOP congressional candidate Ron Estes, left, with Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz. Yingling Aviation, Wichita, Kansas. (AP)

Democrats are making a close race of the first congressional election since President Trump’s White House win, in a Kansas district held by Republicans for more than two decades.  

The special House election Tuesday is for the seat former GOP Rep. Mike Pompeo vacated in January when appointed CIA director.

Trump won 60 percent of the district's vote last fall. But Republicans are increasingly pouring time and money into the final days of the race -- including the president tweeting and making a get-out-the-vote call for GOP candidate state Treasurer Ron Estes.

“Ron Estes is running TODAY for Congress in the Great State of Kansas,” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. “A wonderful guy, I need his help on Healthcare & Tax Cuts (Reform).”

Despite Republicans’ strength in Kansas, the race between Estes and Democrat James Thompson, a civil rights attorney, appears close.

The venerable Cook Political Report recently changed its rating from “safely Republican” to “lean Republican.” 

However, it’s unclear whether the competiveness of the race speaks to a potential voter backlash against Trump, who has record-low approval ratings, or Estes’ connection to GOP Gov. Sam Brownback, among the least popular governors in the country.

The race also includes Libertarian nominee Chris Rockhold.

The south-central Kansas congressional district includes 17 counties and the state's largest city, Wichita.

"Republican Ron Estes needs your vote and needs it badly," Trump said in his minute-long call to voters. "Our country needs help. Ron is going to be helping us, big league."

In final-hour efforts to help Estes, Vice President Pence also recorded a call. And Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who won Kansas’ 2016 GOP presidential primary, campaigned Monday in the state for him.

In addition, the National Republican Congressional Committee has spent roughly $90,000 in last-minute TV and digital ads.

"I think it shows how desperate they are," Thompson said. "Rather than have a candidate who will actually get out and work and listen to people, they are trying to buy the campaign because that is what they do."

Thompson raised nearly $254,000 -- with more than $248,000 of that money coming from individual contributions during the reporting period ending March 22. Recent campaign filings show he has raised nearly $23,000 since then in large donations of $1,000 or more.

Political committees and groups have heavily bolstered Estes' campaign coffers.  

He has raked in about $312,000 from Jan. 1 to March 22, campaign finance filings show. That reporting period does not include almost $94,000 Este's campaign has received in recent days in large donations of $1,000 or larger.

Trump's picks for top jobs in his administration and a California Democratic appointment have created five openings in the U.S. House, where Republicans have a 237-193 edge. Republicans are defending four GOP-leaning seats -- the Kansas seat plus Georgia, Montana and South Carolina -- while Democrats are protecting a seat in a liberal California district.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.