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Republicans scramble to hold on to seat in ruby-red Kansas

If Republicans have to worry about a special election in Kansas, the party is not where it wants to be.
Friday, April 2, 2010, in Topeka, Kan. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Friday, April 2, 2010, in Topeka, Kan.
When Donald Trump tapped Mike Pompeo to lead the CIA, the Republican had to give up his seat in Congress, though his party didn't much mind. Pompeo represented a very Republican district in a very Republican state, so keeping his seat "red" wouldn't pose much of a challenge.At least, that was the idea. The reality, as the Wichita Eagle reported the other day, is a very different story.

National Republicans are wading into a Kansas congressional race few analysts thought would be competitive ahead of Tuesday's vote.U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas will join Republican candidate Ron Estes at an airport rally Monday in Wichita, a day before voters in southern Kansas head to the polls to pick a new congressman. Vice President Mike Pence is also scheduled to record a robocall on Estes' behalf, according to a state party official.Cruz's appearance comes on the heels of last-minute spending on television ads by the National Republican Congressional Committee and a fundraising push by U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin on Estes' behalf.

In case this isn't obvious, these are the steps a party takes when it's panicking. Republican officials expected to win Kansas' congressional special election without lifting a finger, and the fact that party leaders are scrambling to this degree suggests GOP officials are genuinely afraid of a Democratic upset.And that would be extraordinary under the circumstances. This is, after all, a district Donald Trump won by 27 points.A local GOP consultant told Politico the other day, "Kansas should not be in play, but Kansas is in play."As regular readers know, to get a sense of a congressional district's political leanings, there's a helpful metric called the Partisan Voter Index, or PVI, which was created 20 years ago by the Cook Political Report. Districts that lean slightly towards Democrats might have a PVI of D+2 or D+3. Districts that are safely in Republican hands might show a PVI of R+10 or greater. In general, competitive districts are seen as having a +5 advantage or less for either party.Kansas' 4th congressional district, home to tomorrow's special election, is R+15. That's the sort of number that ordinarily ends a race before it starts.And yet, here we are. Republicans have nominated State Treasurer Ron Estes, someone who's already won two statewide elections, while Democrats are running James Thompson, a civil rights attorney. (Kansas Democratic leaders originally eyed a center-right Dem for this race, but local party activists rallied behind Thompson.)It's admittedly hard to imagine Thompson prevailing, but the evidence can't be ignored: if Republicans were confident of a successful outcome, we wouldn't see Pence, Ryan, Cruz, and the NRCC rushing to intervene on Estes' behalf.Of course, what should terrify Republicans is the fact that they're having to work in this district at all. A lot can and will happen between now and next year's midterms, but if the GOP has to worry about R+15 districts, 2018 will not be a good year for the Republican Party.