BOWLING GREEN, Mo. — The race to become northern Missouri's next congressional representative will come to Bowling Green on Sunday, July 19, as three Democrats vying for their party's nomination will participate in a candidate forum hosted by the county's local chapter of Missouri Federated Women's Democratic Club.
The forum is set for 4 p.m. near the large pavilion in the Bowling Green City Park and will feature Charles West, of St. Patrick; Gena Ross, of Platte City; and Henry Martin, of St. Joseph, who was the party's nominee in 2018. A fourth candidate, Ramona Farris, of Kansas City, has suspended her campaign but likely still will appear on the ballot. A fifth candidate, Donald Robert Sartain, of St. Joseph, has not responded to the club's invitation.
Attendees are encouraged to wear a mask and to social distance while at the forum.
The winner of the primary will face incumbent Sam Graves, a Republican, from Tarkio, in November. Graves has represented the district, which is viewed by pollsters as a reliable Republican district, since 2001.
Rhonda Stolte Darnell, president of the local Democratic club, said voters from throughout the district are invited to attend.
The candidates say the coronavirus pandemic has, among other things, severely limited the ability for voters to see candidates together in one place as they consider who to support in the race making the upcoming candidate forum a bit of a novelty in this election cycle. Organizers of the forum plan to live stream the event from the Democratic Club's Facebook page.
"Everything that has been scheduled has been canceled — every speech, every event, every single town hall, nearly every fair or festival has been canceled. You can't go door-to-door, you can't shake hands with people. So I think Sunday is going to have a huge impact on this race because it is going to be one of the few times that voters are going to be able to see the candidates in person," West said.
Martin and Ross, who said she is a COVID-19 survivor, agreed.
"It has certainly slowed down the campaign. One of my goals was to meet with every county commission in the district to learn about their priorities for their county, but that hasn't been possible," Martin said. Despite the size of the district, the candidates say the key issues are the same to many voters, including strengthening public education, expanding access to broadband internet, repairing bridges and improving roads, access to health care, raising the federal minimum wage, job creation in rural areas, and public health programs related to the pandemic.
"These issues are not necessarily things that are wanted by the people of the district, but things that are needed. There is a difference between wants and needs and the people of this district need broadband internet access expanded, they need their bridges repaired and their roads improved. The thing they want is for Sam Graves to go," said Ross, who is a former constituent services representative for former U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill.