CHICAGO – Republicans held on to a US congressional seat on Tuesday, although by a smaller margin than expected, in their first electoral test since Donald Trump won the presidency.
The special election in a House district in the Midwestern state of Kansas was to replace Mike Pompeo, who became Trump’s CIA director.
Republican Ron Estes won 53 to 45 percent against Democrat challenger James Thompson.
That was a surprisingly narrow eight-point margin of victory, considering Trump had won the district during the presidential race by 27 points, and it has been in Republican hands for more than two decades.
The special election was considered a bellwether of how Republicans might fare in next year’s midterm elections, with anti-Trump sentiment high among many voters.
It and another close congressional race in Republican territory in the state of Georgia next week could portend tough election battles for the president’s party in 2018.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, quickly congratulated Estes on Tuesday evening.
“Kansans are fortunate to have this committed public servant representing them in Congress,” Ryan said in a statement.
The Kansas race had unexpectedly tightened in its final days, worrying the Republican establishment.
The Republicans infused the Estes campaign with additional funds, produced automated phone calls recorded by Trump, and sent in Republican US Senator Ted Cruz on Monday to campaign on Estes’s behalf.
“Our enemy right now is complacency,” Cruz said at a rally. “The eyes of the whole country are on Kansas.”
Democrat Thompson had insisted that the race was less about Trump, and more about the policies of Kansas’s unpopular Republican governor.
Governor Sam Brownback has clashed with lawmakers in his own party over issues such as tax cuts that have caused a $1 billion budget shortfall and the expansion of the state’s health insurance program for the poor.
Tax cuts and health care are likely to be issues that incumbent Republicans in the House and Senate will also have to address during next year’s midterms.