COLUMBIA — Englewood doesn't appear to be a traditional campaign stop. After all, the unincorporated village south of Columbia has just nine residents.
But that's exactly where 24th District State Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, spent more than two hours of his Friday evening before Labor Day weekend, where he attended a fish fry organized by a local foxhunting group that attracted more than 100 people.
Kelly’s challenger, Republican Laura Nauser, also spent time in a small town on Friday when she appeared at Midway Arms for an NRA endorsement of Roy Blunt’s Senate campaign.
Labor Day, which falls two months before the November general election, is traditionally considered the start of the fall campaign season. It also signifies the first radio, print and television ads for many candidates running for local and state offices, as well as an increase in public appearances.
Three races for local seats in the House of Representatives will be decided in the election, and 25th District Rep. Mary Still, D-Columbia, is unopposed for a second term.
Kelly disagreed with the conventional wisdom that the bulk of campaigning happens after Labor Day, at least for his own campaign. He said that he had visited more than 3,000 households since May 15 and hoped to visit another 3,000 before the Nov. 2 election.
One reason for his emphasis on early campaigning is pragmatic.
“One thing that newcomers don’t understand is that in October, there is less light in the evening,” Kelly said, adding that this would limit the amount of time candidates can meet voters.
Although he has been involved in local and state politics for more than three decades, Kelly emphasized the importance of campaigning for re-election.
“Right now there is a reasonable amount of anti-incumbency sentiment,” Kelly said. He plans to counter that by meeting as many of his constituents as possible, particularly through door-to-door visits and appearances at community events like the Englewood fish fry.
Nauser, who is also the Fifth Ward representative to the Columbia City Council, agreed about the benefits of door-to-door campaigning.
“The best way to speak to people is through door-to-door, but any time an organization asks me to speak to them, I do,” said Nauser, adding that she recently made appearances at the Boone County Fair and the Farm Bureau candidates’ forum.
Nauser also plans to attend several fundraisers this month, to send letters to voters and to place radio ads in October. With the election bearing down, Nauser said the most important thing is to meet as many potential constituents as possible.
“Politics is all about name recognition,” she said. "Well, name recognition and party identification.”
Paul Szopa, the Republican running against incumbent Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, in the 23rd District, said he has done no door-to-door campaigning but plans to take some time off from his job in a few days to speak with voters in his district.
He also plans to speak during the next month at several organized events, including a meeting of the Columbia Pachyderms. Szopa said he needs a big finish to compete with Webber.
“The 23rd District is a nightmare for a conservative, but I think someone should run," Szopa said. "I hate the idea of an uncontested election because there should be debates about the most important issues.”
Webber could not be reached for comment.
John Cauthorn, the Republican candidate for the 21st District, which covers parts of Boone County, as well as Audrain, Callaway and Monroe counties, said he began campaigning a month ago, immediately after the August primary. Cauthorn had no special plans on Labor Day but said after spending Sunday with his family that he would continue his door-to-door campaigning later on Monday afternoon.
He also said he would resume radio ads in the weeks leading up to the election, much like he did before the Republican primary.
Kelly Schultz, Cauthorn’s opponent in the 21st District, said she has been on the campaign trail since January and has knocked on more than 5,000 doors. She agreed, however, that Labor Day weekend is very significant in one regard.
“We put up our first signs over the weekend,” she said. “So even though we have been campaigning since January, this was the visible kick-off of the campaign.”
She added that radio and television ads are coming, but she has not decided when.
Although Schultz has a busy calendar with speaking engagements, she said door-to-door campaigning is more effective because it allows constituents to voice their concerns directly.
“People are fed up with the political process right now, from the federal government on down," Schultz said, "and we have to find out what issues are the most important to the voters.”