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Democrat Kathy Ellis Gets Early Start On Campaign In Deep-Red Southeast Missouri Congress Race

Kathy Ellis addresses a public forum on income inequality in Rolla.
Kathy Ellis addresses a public forum on income inequality in Rolla.

ROLLA Kathy Ellis lost to Congressman Jason Smith last year by nearly 50 percentage points, but the Democrat from Festus is already gearing up for a rematch she thinks she can win.

Eillis has held a dozen town hall meetings throughout the 30 counties that make up Missouri’s 8th Congressional District in the southeast part of the state.

More than 100 people attended one of the public forums at the Phelps County Courthouse in Rolla earlier this month with a panel led by Ellis. The topic was income inequality.

“We let the local organizers pick the topic — whatever they want to discuss,” Ellis said. “We come down and we listen, and we try to figure out how do we begin to deal with these problems. I think that’s the way we need to have a good connection with potential constituents.”

Ellis, 64, is a semi-retired social worker and counselor who is seeking her first elected office. 

In 2016, 75% of the district voted for Donald Trump, and 74% cast ballots for Smith in 2018. There hasn’t been a Democrat representing the area in Congress since 1981.

Smith’s campaign did not return a call seeking comment on his re-election efforts. He has an active campaign website and regularly travels the district, including a series of meetings this summer with farmers. 

He is a staunch defender of President Trump, especially via social media.

But Ellis believes the values of the district are not represented by the people who are winning elections.

“This district voted for medical marijuana and a higher minimum wage and against right to work,” Ellis said. “They turned around and voted in people who are going to try to get rid of all of that. So we need to educate the voters.”

Ellis said much of her campaign will focus on talking to people who haven’t voted recently.

“We’ve had a lot of people in this district who haven't voted in many cycles. We need to go knock on their doors and find out what’s going on,” Ellis said. “How can we get through to you? How can we communicate better? And what do you need? That’s the most important question.”

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