The Kansas City Star headline would make the reader think that the election was a nail-biter: “Republican Mike Cierpiot hangs on to win KC area seat in Missouri Senate.”
In fact, Cierpiot, of Lee’s Summit, beat his Democratic opponent, Hillary Shields, by 8 percentage points, a number that would have been higher still had Republican Jacob Turk not decided to enter the race as an independent after failing to get the Republican nomination. To put those numbers in perspective, in neither of his two presidential elections did Barack Obama win by as much as 8 percent. One would be hard pressed to find the phrase “hangs on” in any headline describing Obama’s victories.
That said, the election would have been much simpler and considerably cheaper had Turk not entered the race. For an independent, Turk had excellent name recognition. He had run for Congress as a Republican six times against Emanuel Cleaver. In 2010 and 2014, he secured more than 44 percent of the vote.
In July 2017, incumbent Sen. Will Kraus resigned to accept an appointment by Gov. Eric Greitens to the Missouri Tax Commission. The Republican nominating committee chose Cierpiot, the Missouri House Majority Leader, over Turk and another candidate to represent the district in the special election to replace Kraus. And although no one in the Republican Party doubted Turk’s conservative heart, no one doubted Cierpiot’s either. In the eyes of the nominating committee, Cierpiot had one major advantage over Turk, a track record.
Today, Turk, who pulled 7 percent of the vote, is about as popular among eastern Jackson County Republicans as Donna Brazile is among national Democrats. Had Turk pulled as much 16 percent of the vote, Shields could have won, and Turk would have been enormously less popular still.
Although savoring the win, Cierpiot and other Republicans regret the amount of money they felt compelled to spend on the election. Cierpiot plans to run for a full four-year term next year. By buying as much TV time as the campaign did, Republicans alerted the normally sleepy Lee Summit Democrats there was a race going on. The Dems will not get as close in 2018, but they will be back.