LEE’S SUMMIT, Mo. – Two days before the highly contested SD 8 special election, Democrat Hillary Shields’ climbs out of her little red car, armed with a satchel full of information pamphlets, and knocks on the door of a potential constituent. The door opens.
“Hi, I’m Hillary. I’m running in the special election for Missouri Senate,” Shields said.
“I know who you are,” the man replied, revealing a toothy grin, “I’ve seen you on TV.”
Shields, the prepared paralegal retorted, “In those commercials, the only thing they got right was my name.”
Shields’ team, a tight-knit group of friends and inspired women, have been knocking on doors, fielding calls, and distributing reading material to raise awareness for an election some did not even know about. As Shields canvasses her potential constituents, her goals are threefold: listen to residents’ complaints, encourage them to vote on November 7, and establish a connection.
“I’m so glad voters of the eighth district get to see contrasting views of the future and make an informed decision,” she said. “I never thought I would ever get into politics. A year ago, I could not have imagined this.”
In her first political campaign, she was proud of her grassroots movement and the numerous turquoise signs in residents’ yards. She was optimistic of her outreach and how voters have responded. She was proud of exceeding her first goal of 20,000 voter contacts and then surpassing her second goal of 26,000.
But Republican Rep. Mike Cierpiot has run and won four consecutive campaigns. He has name recognition in the district going back to 2010. He has the support of a number of Representatives and Senators in the Legislature. He has a sizable team devoted to make calls, write personalized postcards, and knock on doors.
“We’ve run the most aggressive and sophisticated voter contact campaign ever in a Missouri legislative race,” Cierpiot campaign manager Brett Dinkins said. “With well over 200,000 volunteer voter contacts and a comprehensive digital micro-targeting campaign, on top of our traditional media campaign, we believe our campaign is well positioned entering the turnout phase of our campaign.”
Dinkins believes Cierpiot is poised to win because he stands for the issues that residents of SD 8 care about. He has a number of endorsements to include Missouri Right to Life, the National Rifle Association, and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce. In the legislature, he is the chair of the House Ethics Committee and previously served on the Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education.
“Up to this point, our campaign has focused on making voters aware that liberal Hillary Shields doesn’t share the common sense conservative values of our community,” Cierpiot said. “Voters have been overwhelmingly supportive of our message.”
To better inform his constituents, he has done what Shields has not. He’s received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. He has worked with disability advocates in the area and he has run several ads on television that have garnered attention state-wide. Of the attention-grabbing commercials, they attack Shields for her activism and contrast it with his support of police and tough-on-crime attitudes.
The commercial highlights her work with Indivisible KC, a political non-profit designed to oppose Donald Trump’s political agenda. Another one compares her to Elizabeth Warren, Nancy Pelosi, and Hillary Clinton, and alleges that she did not want to punish Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal over her social media comments.
She told the Missouri Times in August, “I think that it’s never appropriate to call for violence… I hope that she will resign because I don’t think the legislature should be spending time on this.”
Should she be elected, she wants to improve healthcare in the Show-Me state. She remarked that voters were surprised to know that the Missouri legislature were forced to cut programs like MoRx, the government prescription drug co-pay service, and funding for in-home care for elderly on Medicaid.
“I started organizing people to talk to their elected officials to things like healthcare and education: issues that were important to our community,” she said. “Way too often the people who are representing us in Washington and Jefferson City are just listening to their big donors. We need people in Jefferson City who are going to be a voice for regular people.”
As election day quickly approaches, the candidates in SD 8 face their own obstacles. For Cierpiot, he worries that Independent Jacob Turk could siphon away would-be reliable Republican voters. His campaign published a poll which suggests that Turk may receive as many as 10 percent of SD 8 votes and brings his lead over Shields by just 5 points.
— Mike Cierpiot (@MikeCierpiot) October 30, 2017
“With less than 48 hours until the polls close, our sole focus is getting our supporters to the voting booth on Tuesday,” Cierpiot said.
SD 8 sits in Jackson County, but excludes Kansas City. In 2016, the county voted for Hillary Clinton by over 56 percent, the second-highest margin in Missouri. In the U.S. Senate race, a healthy majority of the county for Jason Kander, who has campaigned with Shields.
— Hillary Shields (@ShieldsForMO) October 27, 2017
Shields needs to motivate more voters than Cierpiot to turn out and vote for her on election day. A task which may become difficult as voters have seen his name on the ballot before and the fact that Cierpiot has spent more than six times the amount that she has on the election.
“As with any special election,” Dinkins said, “the key is turnout.”
Michael Layer is a reporter for the Missouri Times and the Missouri Times Magazine. He joined the Missouri Times in August 2017 after graduating from Goucher College the previous May. To contact Michael, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @_MichaelLayer