Uncontested races are undemocratic

Jess Piper speaks at a Progress Iowa event at the Tom and Ruth Harkin Center in Des Moines on March 22 (photo by Laura Belin)

Jess Piper is the Executive DIrector of Blue Missouri. She is a former high school teacher and former nominee for Missouri’s House district 1. She lives on a small farm in northwest Missouri with her family and is the author of The View from Rural Missouri newsletter, where this essay first appeared.

Uncontested races are undemocratic. They are also immoral. If we say we stand with all communities, we have to prove it by showing up on every ballot.

I live in Missouri. I understand supermajorities and the consolidation of power under a supermajority, but I also understand how we get ourselves out of this mess. It isn’t the conventional wisdom of flipping a couple of seats. It’s running everywhere no matter the fact that most of these uncontested seats won’t flip in one cycle.

I hate the phrase “the long game,” but this is literally the long game. It takes time and patience and money and fortitude. It also takes candidates with grit. If anyone has grit, it’s a Missouri Democrat—especially a rural Missouri Democrat. 

I should know. I ran in 2022.

I did not win. I got my butt kicked by a man who is very nice, but who ran on two issues: making sure his grandkids had access to guns and making sure they didn’t have to eat plant-based, meat-substitute burgers. I’m not kidding…here is an article.

Running everywhere is key to dismantling a supermajority. 

Even the “reddest” districts are really just uncontested. My district hasn’t elected a Democrat in 32 years and has never elected a woman. I knew these facts before I signed up to run. I knew that if I did manage to flip a seat in a district that went for Trump by 50 points, I’d make national news—it didn’t happen. 

So what did happen? I made the GOP nominee spend money. I made him show up to town halls and forums to debate me. I made him knock doors. I made him call voters. I made him talk about abortion and school funding and roads and hospitals when all he wanted to talk about was Hunter Biden’s laptop and COVID masking. 

I knew my chances, but by God I knew I was going to make my opponent work for the seat rather than just handing him an uncontested victory and a trip to Jefferson City. I didn’t relent and he couldn’t avoid talking about the things that matter. 

And there’s this: what happens when you make the GOP spend money in a mostly Republican voting district? They can’t spend it chipping away at mostly Democratic voting districts. The GOP has to drop money into rural races that they haven’t had to think about for decades.

Now, what if we did that in 163 districts rather than just ten or 20? The GOP couldn’t keep up, especially in this cycle where the RNC is struggling to raise money and also struggling to steer donor funds to any state races. The newly-elected grifters in the RNC plan to send money to Trump for legal bills while also trying to help him win the presidency. They are going to take Republican donors for a ride. I’m here for it.

When we have Democratic candidates, they knock doors and make calls and show up to forums and debates—folks who may not have heard a Democratic message for decades hear one. It makes a difference, and when we continue to show up cycle after cycle, it’s hard for folks to ignore what is happening in their communities under GOP domination. 

We can say, “I talked to you two years ago, and you voted for a Republican and he won. Has he fixed your roads? Has he funded your schools? Has he made sure your hospital stayed open? Has he addressed the lack of childcare and preschools? Has he backed union wages? Is your life better since he has been in office?”

Now, let me tell you what’s happened in Missouri this year. We have candidates opposing previously uncontested seats. A lot of candidates. I work with Blue Missouri and I preach the message consistently: run everywhere and we have your back. We will fund you if you’ll take that leap. So many have in just the last week. 

Here’s JoJo Stewart who is contesting House district 154 down in the bootheel. The last time this race had a Democrat running was in 2016. 

Here is Amy Thompson who is contesting House district 119. The last time this race had a Democrat running was in 2018.

This is Rebecca Jensen. She is running against MAGA extremist Ben Baker. (Remember the Baptist preacher who cosplayed as military to shoot down a Chinese balloon?) The 160th district was not contested last cycle, and Representative Baker was free to be as extreme as he wanted. That changes with an opponent.

Meet Eleanor Maynard running in House district 109. This seat has not been contested by a Democrat since 2018.

This is the way. This is how we take down the Missouri GOP supermajority. They have done so much damage in the two decades they’ve had power. The GOP has stripped women of bodily autonomy. They have defunded our schools. They have siphoned taxpayer money into religious schools. They have let our roads crumble and our bridges rot. They have let our hospitals close. They have attacked our friends in the LGBTQ community and have done everything except what we needed them to do for 20 years.


Missouri is gerrymandered and controlled by a minority of politicians who are bought and paid for by billionaires. The GOP doesn’t speak for their own Republican constituents, much less folks like me. 

We voted for progressive ballot amendments because we have a progressive population. We voted in Republican lawmakers because we often didn’t have a choice—immorthey weren’t contested. 

With these candidates and over 100 more, we can start to balance Jefferson City. Missouri was the bellwether state and we can bring it back to sanity.

Progressive folks are here and this is our state too. Watch us take it back.

Post-Script: I wrote this post before I heard the news after the end of filing. Friends, in 2022, over 40 percent of the legislative seats in Missouri were uncontested. In 2024, only 18 percent will be uncontested. We have 135 filed for House seats as of March 26. This is progress! WE ARE DOING IT!

Editor’s note from Laura Belin: Following the March 15 filing deadline for Iowa’s primary elections, Democrats had candidates in 75 of the 100 Iowa House districts and eighteen of the 25 Iowa Senate districts that will be on the ballot in November 2024.

Efforts are ongoing to recruit candidates for other legislative races. Those nominees will be selected at special district nominating conventions over the summer. You can find the uncontested races on the Iowa Secretary of State’s primary candidate list.

About the Author(s)

Jess Piper

  • great to see Jess here

    I’m a fan of her podcast and newsletter and hope Dems here in Iowa will follow her example.

  • By the executive director of a non-profit

    The author of the piece is the executive director of a non profit organization that promotes Democratic candidates. The bio says she used to be a teacher. I wonder if she gets a salary or perks from the director position. I have always been wary of professional politicians, I prefer people who have other economic activity and temporarily decide to serve in politics. Of course there are exceptions.

  • I agree with the author.

    Read Rachel Bitecofer’s book, “Hit ‘Em Where It Hurts.” Or watch her C-SPAN interview. It’s really good.

    Her insight for candidates: By and large, people are uniformed and don’t know anything about politics. They have notions. And habits. But they really don’t know anything.

    Every Democrat running, as well as every well informed person of any past political persuasion, should be talking to friends and/or writing in any capacity small or large about the extremists in the GOP — what they’ve already done, and what they plan to do, and how that affects or will affect YOU, the person who hasn’t been paying attention or just doesn’t know what to believe anymore.

    Most people are not like us, people who read and/or write here. Or hang around mainly to troll.

    It’s not primarily about debating, this time at least.

    It’s about informing.

    Our history is not one of autocracy, so that’s an advantage.

    The disadvantage is our fucked-up system with its Electoral College and gerrymandering. And Fox. And locally, WHO radio. And the decay and death of newspapers.

    Otherwise it would be clear we’re not SO confused or stupid as to willingly choose fascism. At least not at the national level. The popular vote tells us that.

    Our state is another sad story for another day.

    But that’s where the “inform, more so than debate” thing must come into play. If informed, what legitimate debate is to be had? There is none, for any person who values freedom.

    Getting more people to run, even if any one immediate prospect is hopeless, is one key to not losing it all at the national level. There have always been pockets of problems at the state level. Most often confined to the South. No surprise.

    Wisconsin found a way out of their wilderness years. There’s hope.

  • Karl M

    You. I have always been wary of professional politicians, I prefer people who have other economic activity and temporarily decide to serve in politics. Of course there are exceptions.

    Me. Being wary is fine. Casting unfounded shade is not. This woman has earned her merit badge. Check her out. Then let us know what you think.