JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The man who has challenged U.S. Congressman Emmanuel Cleaver is now turning his eyes to the state senate race for District 8 in Missouri. Jacob Turk, a Republican from Lee’s Summit, has been challenging Cleaver for Missouri’s 5th Congressional District every two years since 2006. In 2014, Turk put up his best showing with 45 percent of the 153,635 votes.
But this time, instead of running as a Republican for congress, Jacob Turk is looking to join the state senate race as an independent candidate after Republicans chose Rep. Mike Cierpiot as their candidate. While Turk intends to run as an independent candidate, he says he’s still a Republican but is running this way as no primary election was held for the special election. Instead, an 18-member Republican Party committee selected the candidate the GOP would put forth.
“I am seeking to add my name to the ballot as an independent, and I remain a conservative of conviction,” Turk said in a Facebook post on Sept. 15. “My responsibility is always to the people and the ideals that I share with most Americans. The rules in place for this special election prevent normal primary voters from picking their own candidate.”
The seat, left vacant when Sen. Will Kraus accepted an appointment to the state’s tax commission, will be filled following a special election on Nov. 7.
Turk is moving to get his name put on the ballot, where he would be facing the likes of Republican nominee Cierpiot and Democratic nominee Hillary Shields.
To get on the ballot, Turk needed to collect enough signatures and submit them to the Secretary of State’s office – a total of 629 signatures, to be exact.
“I delivered the 87 petitions with over 900 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office yesterday afternoon and filed to be an independent candidate for the November 7th election,” Turk said in a letter sent out on Sept. 19. “There will now be a process by the Jackson County Election Board to see if there are enough qualifying signatures, 629 are needed, to be on the ballot.”
But, as an independent, does Turk stand a chance? Cierpiot, as a Republican, seems to be the favorite, as the most experienced candidate, with an advantage of running for a seat that had been previously held by another Republican with state legislative experience.
The likelihood of Turk winning over Cierpiot seems slim, if any, but the question is whether Turk, who has also run as a Republican, can draw support away from Cierpiot in a number that would provide an opening for Democratic opponent Hillary Shields.
Cleaver’s congressional district does overlap with SD8, but there is a lot of ground that Turk has not covered in his 11-year campaigning career.
“That is a fear tactic which ignores the political reality of this situation. I have campaigned throughout the 8th District for 12 years, developing relationships with the people in every city in the district, so I have developed the depth of support to win any race in this area,” Turk said. “In the U.S. Congressional race, I won every Republican primary with significant margin and then went on to even beat my famous opponent Emanuel Cleaver handily in the 8th district area. I have tens of thousands of folks from all parties and points of view who have already voted for me in the area of the 8th plus hundreds of volunteers and thousands of individual contributors from throughout the metro. My campaigns have always been based on the support of the people who live there. I have won those races because of the support of the voters, not party support nor money. As I always have, I welcome any and all interested candidates to file. Competition is good. Let the voters decide.”
Jonathan Ratliff, the former HRCC political director and a partner at Palm Strategic, notes that the Democrats would most likely view Turk’s entrance into the race as such an opportunity, but notes that special elections are always different. The November 7 ballot will only have the SD8 race on it.
“Special elections are always tricky. They’re always complicated, especially anytime you have a low turnout election, it has the opportunity to complicate matters,” Ratliff said. “At the end of the day, Mike is a Republican, and Republicans will get out to support a Republican.”
And if the past elections are any suggestion, then Republicans should feel somewhat comfortable, as the past two elections were easy victories for Kraus, who ran unopposed in 2014 and defeated Libertarian Kevin Parr with nearly 80 percent of the vote in 2010.
In terms of fundraising, Cierpiot has a clear lead over his fellow candidates, with the last report showing more than $178,000 on hand. Shields’s last report showed just under $20,000. There are no reports with the Missouri Ethics Commission for Turk, as he has no campaign committee formed at this time.
“The way the rules are set up now, if you’re going to raise or spend $500, you have to get a committee set up, or make a declaration saying that you have intention of raising that much money,” Ratliff said.
But first, the signatures will have to be verified.
“The dedicated folks at the Jackson County Election Board are working overtime, now diligently going through each signature to ensure only registered voters from the 8th State Senatorial District are counted,” Turk stated. “This will take a day or two then we all will know what our choices on the ballot will be on November 7th.”
Benjamin Peters was a reporter for The Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine and also produced the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined The Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield.