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Editorial: The Rise of the Outsiders for State Senate


O’Laughlin, Brown, and Luetkemeyer prove the state senate isn’t reserved for just state representatives

By Aaron Baker

Watching Cindy O’Laughlin’s campaign against three sitting state representatives was like watching a game where every ball seemed to bounce the winning team’s way. She ran against three smart, capable and talented state representatives who had the backing of some of the best political minds in Missouri.

O’Laughlin’s “outsider” campaign may have proven a point that state senate seats aren’t reserved only for state representatives.

It is important to note that all three state representatives began the race with about 20% of voters supporting their cause. O’Laughlin had 6% of the vote a year before the election. For Rep. Nate Walker and Rep. Lindell Shumake, their vote-share only decreased during the campaign. O’Laughlin finished the race at 37%. Redmon was second at 27%.

Polling showed that Cindy’s business, Leo O’Laughlin, Inc. was her biggest political asset, so advertising focused on her concrete business and her focus to “mix it up” as a Trump-like outsider in Jefferson City. This later proved to inoculate against outside attacks against her business itself.

The controversy surrounding former Gov. Greitens only seemed to grow O’Laughlin’s base and put a hard cap on others. When Rep. Nate Walker took a strong stance against his former friend, the entire episode put a ceiling on his performance. O’Laughlin was a defender of the former governor who, polling showed, enjoyed higher favorability rating than the sitting state senator in the middle of his darkest days.

In an odd turn of events, the estimated $300,000 spent against O’Laughlin and in support of Walker by trial lawyers from throughout the state, including the Missouri’s Future PAC, only fed into a deep state narrative that helped O’Laughlin. The vile ads ran by trial lawyers distracted from any and all spending by other outside sources and mirrored perceived witch hunts against both Trump and Greitens.

Redmon worked hard to argue that he had the experience needed for the job, a message that was counter to the “outsider” mood of the Trump electorate. He later switched to a pro-Trump, “I’m a businessman” narrative, but it was too little too late. He had the support of agriculture leaders in the district and was backed by Senator Munzlinger and his wise chief of staff, but his support didn’t grow despite those endorsements.

Shumake ran a campaign free of contrasts and aggressive fundraising, which in the end made even the election in his own home county of Marion very close. Like the other men in the campaign, Shumake’s base was his own district and like his colleagues, he is a good Christian man and respected in those communities.

Geography will always have a significant impact on the outcome of state senate elections and those who ignore it and polling will ultimately fail. In fact, geography often seems more important than ideology. While others viewed the SD 18 race as a matchup between a “Highway 63” versus a “Highway 61” corridor, the race was always about which “no man’s land” counties were up for grabs because no candidate currently or previously represented them in the Missouri House.

O’Laughlin won in all six of these counties and more: Shelby (59%), Linn (55%), Pike (48%), Chariton (47%), Randolph (43%) and Macon (42%), most of whom were not originally familiar with the state representatives. Shumake currently represents O’Laughlin’s home county of Shelby. Walker was the state representative in my home county of Macon When I was born. O’Laughlin’s largest vote total came from Macon County at 1,568 votes or more than half of her total margin of 2,652 for the win.

Redmon won only the counties in his state representative district: Schuyler (by only four votes), Clark, Scotland, Knox, and Lewis.

Walker won his only county – Adair – with 49% of the vote. He did not win counties that he represented in the House decades ago. Redmon also represents a portion of Adair, but came in a distant third (16%). O’Laughlin overperformed in Adair County with 32% of the vote.

Shumake won in Marion County with 48% of the vote. O’Laughlin was second at 28% with Redmon again at a distant third. He also won in Ralls County, which he represented prior to redistricting. Similar to every other county that she did not win, O’Laughlin was second in Ralls.

State representatives eyeing a seat in the Missouri Senate should take note that their voting record, including absenteeism, matters. Issues like school choice, labor and tort reform can also have a major impact on a race.

Having the right team to help navigate through direct voter contact options, campaign finance issues, geography and message progression in these crowded primary races is vitally important.

This summer proved the state senate isn’t just reserved for former state representatives.

Aaron Baker is a Vice President at Axiom Strategies and Clout Public Affairs and a campaign consultant in Missouri, where Axiom has more than 90 clients in the 2018 election cycle. He lives on a farm in Macon County with his wife and four children. 

Baker chose the Missouri 4-H Foundation to receive a donation on behalf of his writing.