The Case for KS-04: An analysis of 2017 Federal Special Elections

DISCLOSURE: I am a full-time employee of the James Thompson for Kansas campaign; where possible I have provided links to neutral websites for the numbers used in this analysis.

Since the inauguration of Donald Trump, there have been five special elections at the federal level. Of those, four involved Democrats facing off against Republicans; Kansas’ 4th, South Carolina’s 5th, Montana At-Large and Georgia’s 6th (California’s 34th is not included in this analysis since it was a Democrat vs Democrat race in a runoff election).

Surprisingly, despite their shortened race lengths, these special elections produced the most expensive campaigns to date. In addition, Democratic campaign contribution clearinghouse ActBlue is experiencing a huge boost in donations post-Trump. Since prospective voters are, more than ever before, putting their money where their mouths are, it is important they have as much relevant information as possible before deciding which candidates to support. Information such as biggest gains, cost per vote and political climate are especially important as those indicate which districts are primed for wins.  As such, James Thompson had the best performance of any federal special election Democrat.

James Thompson had the LARGEST IMPROVEMENT over November 2016 Presidential Results...


As the graph indicates, the James Thompson for Kansas congressional campaign dominated in the biggest gains category. This is especially important to voters when trying to determine the most effective district to support. As seen above, all of the special election Democrats ended with results in the mid-to-high 40s.

Unfortunately, that story neglects where each district started; of the 2016 general election candidates for U.S. House, Kansas fared the poorest with a final outcome of 29.60% of the vote, but Thompson won 46%  in the special election, a gain of 16.4. In second, was GA-06 with a gain of 9.9 followed by SC-05 at 9.17 and finally Montana with a gain of 3.83. The biggest swing of the needle from Republican to Democrat indicates which districts have the most viability moving forward.

James Thompson had the LOWEST Cost Per Vote


While performance increases matter, you also need to factor in the cost per vote of each candidate. Closing the gap is meaningless if the cost per vote is unsustainable. Here, once again, James Thompson is the decisive winner. Using the vote totals from the corresponding Secretary of States’ websites, divided by the total amount spent (according to FEC records, of the campaigns only - excluding PACS which drive the non-Kansas costs up even more) puts the cost per vote in the special elections at:

KS-04: $11.47/vote

SC-05: $26.40/vote

MT-AL: $40.71/vote

GA-06: $236.19/vote

Political Climate: Kansas is Returning to Its Progressive Roots

Kansas has a history rife with political change and activism dating back to before Kansas joined the Union. During the Civil War, Kansas suffered the highest rate of fatalities of any Union state. Kansans lost their lives during brutal battles fought between anti-slavery Kansas and pro-slavery forces from a bordering state - earning it the nickname “Bleeding Kansas.” Often, people forget the Great Plains of Kansas saw the start of a war that eventually freed a massive population of inhumanely oppressed people. However, the Free State of Kansas shed the first tears and spilled its blood first in the fight against such overwhelming injustice.

Despite its remarkable beginnings, Kansas lost sight of its progressive roots for many years, culminating in 2010 with the Gubernatorial election victory of Sam Brownback. It took Brownback’s “tax experiment” in 2012 to jolt the people of Kansas from their slumber. The “experiment” was supposed to be a shot of adrenaline into our economy (better known as trickle-down economics); it failed miserably. Kansas continues to suffer at the hands of Brownback: its infrastructure is falling into disrepair, schools lack fair and adequate funding , its rural communities are losing their hospitals (exacerbated by the state’s failure to expand Medicaid coverage) in turn hurting already fragile economies. Through his deficient leadership and failed political experiments, Gov. Brownback, throughout his “grand experiment” debacle earned himself the title,  “Most Unpopular Governor” in the United States for quite some time (herehere and here).

But the elections of Brownback and Trump and now a renewed interest in expanding nationalizing b Kansas’ failed policies are fueling the fire of Kansas Progressivism. The state has a massive grassroots movement building, pushing candidates closer and closer to victories in almost every race in the state. For example, during the 2016 Presidential primaries, Bernie Sanders carried the state 67.7% to Clinton’s 32.3% ( Additionally, during the 2017 Special Election, a race of only 60 days,  James Thompson won the home county of the states largest city (Wichita), the first time since 2006 a Democrat has carried the county. The enthusiasm and hard work is continuing to grow in Kansas. Most recently, progressive grassroots candidate Brandon Johnson won 52% of the vote in a 4-way primary for an open City Council seat; and his campaign responded by doubling down on their grassroots voter outreach efforts.

All of this seems unbelievable at first thought, given the particular brand of conservatism elected officials like Sam Brownback and Secretary of State Kris Kobach push with support from infamous Kansas natives like the Koch brothers, but it’s just smoke and mirrors. In June, a Republican-controlled legislature voted to override a Governor’s veto, ending the failed experiment - partially in response to citizen activists. As the campaigns of Thompson and Sanders indicate, Kansans are getting back in touch with their underlying, pre-Civil War Progressive roots.

Clearly, Kansas offers potential donors the most bang for their progressive buck - a point exemplified by the James Thompson for Kansas campaign. Despite the short amount of time, the campaign spent less while closing the gap more than another special election campaign. Subsequently, the Thompson campaign is a bright and shining example of how a campaign should be run (but I might be biased), and is definitely in the right place at the right time.


2017 KS-04 Election Results:
2016 KS-04 Election Results:
2017 MT-AL Election Results:
2016 MT-AL Election Results:
2017 GA-06 Election Results:
2016 GA-06 Election Results:
2017 SC-05 Election Results:
2016 SC-05 Election Results: