Eric Burlison, candidate for the Republican nomination for U.S. House in the 7th District, mingles with supporters at an election night party Aug. 2, 2022, at the Vineyard Market in Ozark. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

Note: This story has been updated to provide the correct hometown for Eric Burlison, which is Battlefield.

And then there were three. The field of candidates for Missouri’s 7th Congressional District has narrowed to Republican Eric Burlison, Democrat Kristen Radaker-Sheafer, and Libertarian Kevin Craig.

Burlison, a state Senator from Battlefield, was part of a crowded and competitive Republican primary that included state Sen. Mike Moon, a fellow member of the Senate’s conservative caucus, along with former Sen. Jay Wasson, and pastor and podcastor Alex Bryant. Four other candidates wrestled nearly 13 percent of the vote from the frontrunners, potentially contributing to losses of Wasson and Bryant, who came in second and third, respectively. 

Burlison, ultimately, garnered 39,422 votes in Tuesday’s primary vote, making up just over 38 percent of the ballots cast for the race. He beat Wasson by more than 16,000 votes.

Now attention turns to the Nov. 8 general election in the race to succeed U.S. Rep. Billy Long, a six-term incumbent who chose to give up his safe seat to seek the nomination for U.S. Senate. Long finished a distant fourth in the voting for that contest.

In the early days of the race to replace Long, some polls placed Wasson with a commanding lead, but an infusion of negative advertisements by conservative political action committees, an 11th-hour aggressive campaign by Bryant, and perhaps a shift in values by 7th District Republicans gave Burlison the upper hand. 

“I think people were looking for authenticity in this election and they wanted to be certain about the people that they were voting for,” Burlison said. “In a climate in which everyone is claiming to be conservative, I had the record to prove it.”

Burlison campaigned on his conservative voting record as a state representative and senator in Jefferson City, bolstered by endorsements from the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Ohio U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan.

“Thank you to everyone who ran,” Burlison said. “It was a real honor to have won amongst some really amazing individuals who I was able to join the stage with. I would say that they made me work extremely hard, which I’m proud to do and I also feel like [they] helped me become a better candidate myself.”

The Springfield Daily Citizen made multiple attempts Wednesday to reach Wasson for comment, but he did not return messages.  

Burlison will be heavily favored to win in a district that has not elected a Democrat in 62 years, but he said it was too early to assess what needs to be done for the remainder of the race. 

Kristen Radaker-Sheafer, Democrat candidate for U.S. House in Missouri’s 7th District. (Submitted photo)

Radaker-Sheafer, on the other hand, looks forward to the uphill battle she faces in her fight to be the district’s first Democratic voice on Capitol Hill in decades. 

As is often expected in a Democrat primary inside of a deep red district, voter turnout was low. A total of 21,578 people chose to vote in the Democrat race, compared to 103,260 who pulled Republican ballots for the 7th Congressional District. 

Radaker-Sheafer, a former graphic designer and Joplin-based baker, garnered 13,661 votes, more than 63 percent of the Democrat total. 

“I was actually a little surprised by how much I won by,” Radaker-Sheafer said. “I think the other two were also very strong candidates and there wasn’t really any polling in this race so I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen. The overturning of Roe v. Wade was a huge factor in the race, people were looking for women to vote for after that, so I think I definitely had an advantage there. I also spent a lot of hours traveling across the district and I had a great team, I think that was largely behind the victory.”

Additionally, Radaker-Sheafer noted that her age (34) may have played a role in her victory, because she believes people are looking for something different that a younger candidate might have to offer.

Radaker-Sheafer ran on a campaign that promoted bipartisanship, stronger communication between the government and citizens and more easily accessible resources for struggling families and businesses. 

“Our members of Congress are not always involved in their own district and the issues that are being faced by their constituents as they really should be so I didn’t feel like anyone was listening to the issues,” Radaker-Sheafer said as to why she initially decided to run. “So I figured maybe I should just jump in and see what I can do.”

Radaker-Sheafer, well aware of the challenge she faces in the campaign ahead, shared her positivity no matter the outcome.

“We’re really just going to focus on the communities in the 7th District, and try to make sure that even if I don’t win, which I’m planning to, we’re going to try our hardest,” she said. “But even if I don’t, if we can improve lives through the campaign then I will say that will be a successful run for me and we’re just going to go out there and try to make sure people are heard.”

Kevin Craig

The third and final candidate standing, Kevin Craig, faced no primary challenger and will appear on the November ballot, as he has on several elections, as the Libertarian candidate. He promotes himself as a Christian seeking to abolish the IRS, privatize the Post Office and, ultimately, shrink government.

Jack McGee

Jack McGee is the business and economic development reporter at the Springfield Daily Citizen. He previously covered politics and elections for the Citizen. Before that, he worked at documentary film company Carbon Trace Productions and Missouri State University’s student-led newspaper, The Standard. He’s an MSU graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism and a minor political science. Reach him at jmcgee@sgfcitizen.org or (417) 719-5129. More by Jack McGee