Ahead of the first special election of Donald Trump’s presidency, a small group of Kansas Republicans has effectively handpicked an establishment-backed candidate as the next congressman from the Wichita-based 4th District.
At a special nominating convention Thursday night, 126 district committeeman elected state Treasurer Ron Estes to be the GOP nominee for the open seat, which was vacated by Mike Pompeo after his confirmation as CIA director. Estes received 66 votes on the final ballot.
The special election will be held April 11, but since it’s a safe Republican district that Trump won by 27 points, Democrats are unlikely to seriously contest the seat. Mitt Romney carried the 4th District by a similar 26-point margin in 2012.
Estes had been regarded as the early front-runner. He started with several structural advantages, namely that he and his wife were both delegates at Thursday’s convention. His wife is also a former 4th District chairwoman, who helped recruit many members of the district committee. He also had help from a former staffer to one of his competitors in this race. Former Rep. Todd Tiahrt’s onetime field director backed Estes over Tiahrt and had helped recruit committee members from rural areas of the district.
Estes, a Trump elector, has said he approves of the president’s time in office so far.
But Estes won out over the candidate with closer Trump ties. Former Trump campaign staffer Alan Cobb received 43 votes on the final ballot. A coalitions director for the Trump presidential campaign, Cobb has long been involved in Kansas politics. He worked for former Sen. Bob Dole, managed former state Treasurer Tim Shallenburger’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign, and served as state director for Americans for Prosperity.
Cobb seems to have had his heart set on going to Congress. After serving on the Trump transition team, he said he turned down a job in the administration to run for the 4th District seat. He could still run for the 2nd District, where GOP Rep. Lynn Jenkins is retiring next year.
Tiahrt finished third with 17 votes on the final ballot, denying him the chance to return to the seat he vacated in 2010 for an unsuccessful bid for the Senate. He later fell short in an attempt to reclaim his House seat in 2014, losing in the GOP primary to Pompeo.
The National Republican Congressional Committee praised Estes shortly after his victory. “Ron Estes is the strong conservative Kansans need, aggressively fighting for their values in Washington," Chairman Steve Stivers said in a statement. “The NRCC stands squarely behind him and I’m supremely confident Ron Estes has the right message to keep the district in Republican hands.”