- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 28, 2017

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Democrat James Thompson advocated Tuesday for an impartial panel to investigate allegations of Russian interference in the U.S. election, while Republican Ron Estes portrayed the world as “a dangerous place” without addressing the issue posed during a televised forum in the race to fill the House seat vacated by CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

The April 11 vote will be the first congressional election since President Donald Trump’s victory. Republicans have held the House seat for more than two decades in a district that Trump won last November with 60 percent of votes cast.

The forum hosted by KWCH-TV comes after the revelation last week that the FBI is investigating possible collusion between Trump campaign officials and associates with the alleged Russian attack on the presidential election.

Estes, the state’s treasurer, tried to deflect the question on how to best investigate those allegations by asserting that both presidential campaigns, as well as members of Congress, had contact with the Russians. Libertarian Chris Rockhold argued for open communication with all foreign leaders, not just the ones the country agreed with.

“We need to make sure that our country is secure,” Thompson said. “That means not just the borders, that means making sure other countries are not trying to influence our elections and having an undue influence on our different branches of government - including our president.”

Republicans have represented the district that encompasses the state’s largest city of Wichita since Todd Tiahrt unseated veteran Democratic Rep. Dan Glickman in 1994. Pompeo won the state’s 4th District seat in 2010, when Tiahrt gave it up to run unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate.

In opening comments, Estes highlighted his engineering background and told viewers the country needs more leaders in Washington, D.C., who “will do more with less - that’s how you engineer real change.”

Thompson, a civil rights attorney and Army veteran, talked about growing up in poverty and recounted how he was homeless at one point in his youth. A teacher’s interest made him realize the importance of education.

The candidates also diverged on the issue of immigrant issues, particularly given the implications to agricultural communities in Kansas. Estes cited the border wall as an important part of securing the country, while Thompson called for immigration reform and a humane path to citizenship for immigrants already in the country who are “our neighbors and friends.”

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