At about 8:40 in the evening, someone in a packed room in Llywelyn’s Pub in downtown Lee’s Summit read aloud the latest vote update. Republican Mike Cierpiot edged to a bigger lead, and the room cheered.
“We’re winning, baby!” one man exclaimed.
Democrat Hillary Shields had held the slimmest of leads when absentee votes were posted early in the evening, but returns after that consistently showed Cierpiot solidly ahead in a three-way race for an open Missouri Senate seat.
Cierpiot ended up with 12,851 votes (50.29 percent) to 10,869 (42.53 percent) for Shields and 1,806 (7.1 percent) for Jacob Turk, a Republican running as an independent.
“Really, I’ve always thought my views aligned with the district pretty well,” said Cierpiot, a state representative for the last seven years.
Shields told supporters to be proud of running a great race, and she vowed to run again in 2018.
“And next year we are going to see a blue wave,” she said.
The 8th District covers Blue Springs, Grain Valley and much of Lee’s Summit. The seat was vacated when Sen. Will Kraus resigned at the end of the July to take a seat on the State Tax Commission.
Cierpiot will serve in 2018, the final year of Kraus’ term. He said his top priority remains finding ways for students in failing schools to have better options while not interfering with public school districts, such as those in Lee’s Summit, Blue Springs and Grain Valley, that perform well.
Cierpiot said Tuesday night, as he did at the outset of the campaign, that the political left is fired up, and he said he was initially concerned about complacency among his supporters in the heavily Republican district. Turk jumping in and threatening to split the Republican vote seemed to energize those supporters.
“If you look at this room, it’s remarkable the support we’ve had,” he said.
Money played a role, too. The Shields campaign estimated that Cierpiot’s campaign and outside groups spent about $1 million – much on TV ads they said crossed the line – compared with about $135,000 for Shields.
“I think it’s really challenging when they outspend you ten to one,” she said.
She also said she was taken aback that the Cierpiot campaign tried to tie her to state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, who this summer posted on Facebook that President Trump should be killed. Shields said she’s never met Chappelle-Nadal, and she called for Chappelle-Nadal to resign because of that comment.
Shields told her supporters – gathered at the VFW hall a few doors down the street from the Cierpiot party – it’s important to fight for seniors and working people, and to make the political system more responsive to the needs of average people.
“We are going to keep carrying this message because it’s the right thing to do,” she said.
She added, “I feel really good about the campaign.”
She said her campaign tapped into a lot of people who haven’t previously been politically active.
One example: She said they had a goal of knocking on 20,000 doors in the district but instead got to 37,000 – 6,000 by Shields herself.
“I love our country,” she said. “I love our political system. I think it only works when everyday people get involved.”