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GOP strategist: 'The way things are headed, we would lose the House'

If Democrats can seriously compete in a Kansas special election, they can seriously compete almost anywhere.
Ripped Donald Trump signs lay on the floor at a rally in Radford, Va., Feb. 29, 2016. (Photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for MSNBC)
Ripped Donald Trump signs lay on the floor at a rally in Radford, Va., Feb. 29, 2016.
Congressional elections are zero-sum affairs: candidates vie for a seat, the winner earns the opportunity to serve, and the loser gets nothing. To this extent, the fact that Republicans managed to hold onto Kansas' 4th district in yesterday's special election is precisely the outcome the GOP wanted to see.And yet, it's Democrats who appear to be smiling. The Kansas City Star reported overnight:

Republican Ron Estes will be the next congressman from the state of Kansas, but his victory Tuesday night did not come as easily as many expected in the deep-red state.GOP strategists warned in recent days that Democrat James Thompson, a civil rights attorney, was in striking distance against Estes, Kansas state treasurer from Wichita, in the special election to replace Mike Pompeo.Estes trailed Thompson early in the night, but began to pull ahead around 9 p.m. In the end, Estes prevailed with 53 percent to Thompson's 45 percent.

By every possible metric, the GOP candidate should've won this race easily, without breaking a sweat. It's a ruby-red district -- Donald Trump won here by 27 points -- in a ruby-red state. A FiveThirtyEight analysis this week noted, "A Thompson loss of 20 percentage points or less would probably be a good sign for Democrats."The Republican Party had to scramble furiously, in ways no one expected, to win by about 8 percentage points. The GOP push included intervention from Donald Trump and Mike Pence, both of whom recorded robo-calls for local voters; in-person campaigning from Ted Cruz; a fundraising push from Paul Ryan; and 11th-hour investments from the National Republican Congressional Committee.Republicans prevailed, but the GOP candidate didn't win so much as he survived. If Democrats can seriously compete in this Kansas district, they can seriously compete almost anywhere.McClatchy had a good report yesterday on the direction of the prevailing political winds.

President Trump's approval ratings are low. Democratic voters are motivated like never before. And the GOP has struggled to put away a trio of special election House races in districts where it won easily just last November. For some Republicans, it all leads to a simple conclusion: The party should start worrying about the 2018 elections. [...]Two Republicans strategists familiar with polling data in two of the special election races say the main problem is not that independents and moderate voters have swung en masse to Democrats.The problem, they say, is the Democratic base is so energized that even voters who rarely pay attention to politics are suddenly engaged. One GOP operative familiar with the special elections said the GOP realized there might be a problem when polling found that even low-propensity Democratic voters were interested in the race.

The article quoted a House GOP strategist who said, "At the end of the day, the national environment has to get better for us not to lose the House. The way things are headed, we would lose the House."All of this comes with an important caveat: it's only April 2017. If the midterm elections were a few weeks away, Republicans would have reason to panic, but they're not. Voting is still a year-and-a-half away, and it's difficult to know what conditions will be like next fall.That said, the results in Kansas serve as a reminder to the political world that, as things stand, the GOP is facing serious headwinds -- and they have no idea how to improve their standing.