Republican Ron Estes emerged victorious Tuesday in the special election to fill Kansas' empty seat in Congress, dispelling fears that the first major race of the election cycle could end with Democrats flipping control of a seat that the GOP has held for over two decades.
Nearly three hours after the polls closed, the Associated Press called the race for Mr. Estes, who had the backing of President Trump.
With all of the 620 precincts counted, Mr. Estes scored a 53 percent to 46 percent win over Democrat James Thompson, a civil rights attorney who supported Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential primary. Libertarian Chris Rockhold captured 2 percent of the vote.
"By electing Ron Estes, Kansas rejected the far-left policies of liberal activists and voted to keep delivering on the promises we made to the American people," said Steve Stivers, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of House Republicans.
The result was welcome news for Mr. Trump, who on Tuesday urged voters to go to the polls, saying Mr. Estes would help him advance his push to repeal and replace Obamacare and overhaul the federal tax code.
But the margin of victory in the GOP stronghold was narrower than most Republicans had anticipated and Democrats touted the result as a moral victory as they look to channel the progressive fury against Mr. Trump into future electoral success.
"To fellow grassroots progressives leading the resistance in the streets, at town halls, and at the doors, these results are proof that our movement can have a profound impact at the ballot box in the months ahead," said Jim Dean, head of Democracy for America, a progressive group.
"If we can make Republicans go into full-on freakout mode in a ruby red Kansas congressional district now, we have the power to rip the gavel out of [House Speaker] Paul Ryan's hands in November 2018," he said.
Following the Estes' win, Republicans will hold a 238-193 seat edge over Democrats in the House.
The Kansas seat opened up after Mike Pompeo, who held the seat since 2011, resigned this year to become director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Located in south central Kansas and comprised of 17 counties, Mr. Trump won 60 percent of the votes cast in the 4th Congressional District in the 2016 race for The White House.
It is home to Koch Industries, the company led by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch, and a broad swatch of social conservatives.
As a result, the race was largely overshadowed by the special congressional race to pick a successor to Tom Price, the head of the Department of Health and Human Services, in Georgia's 6th Congressional District, which Mr. Trump carried by a single point.
More attention, though, shifted to the race in Kansas after the National Republican Committee invested close to $100,000 into the race toward the tail-end of the campaign on television ads dinging Mr. Thompson over his record on abortion.
In the final days of the campaign, Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence also cut separate pro-Estes robo-calls and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas stumped with the Republican.
The sense that the GOP was scrambling to save the seat left Democrats fantasizing about winning and being able to tout it as proof that the electorate has turned on the president.
It also raised questions as to why the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of House Democrats, decided against devoting more resources to the race.
"To the Washington Democratic insiders who wrote this race off before it began, it's time to wake up and realize that the grassroots expects this resistance effort to be waged unflinchingly in every single county and every single state across the country," Mr. Dean said. "While Donald Trump is threatening the safety of marginalized communities, Democrats need to quit the dithering and ensure that Trump and his Congressional enablers feel politically unsafe in every corner of the country."Mr. Thompson, meanwhile, tried to tie Mr. Estes to Gov. Sam Brownback, who remains very unpopular in the state. The same sort of anti-Brownback message helped Democrats pick up seats in the state legislature in the November election, but it did not work this time.
"In federal and statewide elections since nominating Sam Brownback for governor, the Kansas GOP tonight moved to 32-0," said Matt Hickam, a Kansas-based GOP strategist.