Missouri's 4th district GOP primary is one of the most competitive races in the state
Seven GOP candidates are out to prove they have what it takes to represent Missouri in Congress and replace Rep. Vicky Hartzler. In a solidly Republican district, whoever wins the primary is likely to prevail in the general election.
After 11 years, Republican Rep. Vicky Hartzler is vacating her congressional seat to run for the U.S. Senate. The absence of an incumbent in Missouri’s 4th congressional district has attracted no fewer than seven GOP candidates in what political forecasters consider a safe Republican seat.
The district takes in the southern Kansas City region, including Cass County and part of Jackson County, and stretches through mid-Missouri south of the Missouri River.
The race is possibly the most competitive and crowded in the state, and Republican candidates have raised nearly $4 million between them.
The seven GOP candidates vying for the seat are State Sen. Rick Brattin of Harrisonville; Taylor Burks, a former Boone County Clerk; Mark Alford, a retired Fox 4 Kansas City newscaster; Kalena Bruce, a CPA and farmer from Stockton; Bill Irwin, a retired Lee’s Summit police officer; Kyle Stonner LaBrue, a property developer from Osage Beach; and Jim “Soupy” Campbell, a bar owner and former Saint Louis Blues player from Climax Springs.
Campbell, who could not be reached for comment, does not have any social media accounts or website presence. Of the more than $1 million he has raised, all except $6,050 in individual contributions consists of a loan he made to his campaign.
The remaining six candidates unabashedly support former President Donald Trump and his America First agenda. All of them are opposed to increased gun regulation and abortion rights.
In May, Missouri’s congressional redistricting took effect. Rep. Sarah Walsh of Ashland quit the race because the new map put her in the 3rd district.
The change left Burks, Alford and LaBrue outside the 4th district, and Bruce made it a campaign issue. In May, she called for them to quit the race. But Missouri law does not require a candidate to live in the district they represent.
Brattin, who has spent nearly $46,000 on television ads, has been criticized by his opponents for sending out more than 76,000 pieces of official mail drawing on his budget as a state senator.
While the mailers are legal, critics say it’s a questionable use of taxpayer money to campaign for a different office. According to the Missouri Independent, the mailers were directed to those most likely to vote in the primaries.
“I have a mailing budget to communicate with my constituency about the things that I'm doing or have done in the past session, and that's exactly what these mailings did,” Brattin told KCUR. “I'm not gonna negate speaking with the people that I represent about the things that I have done over the past session, just because it actually shows that I'm working and being a voice of them in Jefferson City.”
Although all the GOP candidates oppose abortion rights, they differ on what role the federal government should play.
LaBrue says that since birth control is readily available, there should be no right to abortion. After Missouri’s near-total abortion ban went into effect following the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade in June, some health care providers have said the legality of birth control measures like Plan B is unclear.
“If you make an exception for rape or incest — which I think most people logically would — does that mean that every abortion that's performed now is rape or incest?” LaBrue told KCUR. “How do you separate the two? You have to be careful because with the government, if you give ’em an inch, they’ll take a mile”
Brattin and Irwin support banning all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest.
At a debate earlier this month broadcast by Kansas City’s PBS and sponsored by the Missouri Times and KMBC Channel 9, Brattin noted that he sponsored a bill allowing lawsuits against anyone helping a woman cross state lines to obtain an abortion.
Brattin said he would support a federal bill making it a crime for doctors to provide abortions to a person from another state.
Burks and Bruce would support exceptions to Missouri’s abortion ban in cases of rape or incest or where the health of the pregnant person is endangered.
“This is a state issue and it needs to be done on the state level,” Bruce told KCUR. “On the federal level, we can defund Planned Parenthood. We can do some of those other things to help in states, maybe, where their voters aren't holding their legislators accountable.”
Burks told KCUR that the federal government should not regulate who crosses state lines and should play no role in abortion policy beyond defunding Planned Parenthood and making sure military facilities are not used as safe havens for abortion.
Brattin told KCUR he opposes critical race theory and supports school choice. He wants to dismantle the Department of Education and stop linking federal funding to school districts.
“The federal government doesn't need to be involved in education at all,” Brattin said. “[Parents know] what's best for their child and not only are they going to get a great education, but a value system that backs up their values while they get educated, not one that's hostile to it and undermines people's beliefs. That's what the education system's supposed to be, not an indoctrination process.”
Bruce said she supports federal funding for schools but does not want the money tied to curriculum and testing requirements. She also wants to create a task force to address the teacher shortage.
While LaBrue supports school choice, he wants guarantees that school vouchers can be used for private religious schools and homeschooling.
“I feel like at the end of the day, how a child is educated should be in the hands of the parent, not an acronym or some kind of federal statute,” he said.
At the July 15 debate, Bruce was the lone candidate to endorse even modest immigration reforms. The other candidates want to shut down the border completely.
“Immigration reform has been kicked down the road by Congress after Congress,” Bruce said. “Farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, we need a reliable workforce. We need the migrant workforce that is used to doing those jobs because there are a lot of those jobs that Americans simply don’t want to do.”
But somewhat contradictorily, she also said that “at the end of the day, we have to close the borders, we have to secure our farms, ranches and businesses there on the borders, and we have to cut down our spending.”
Brattin noted his sponsorship of legislation to ban sanctuary cities and impose penalties on companies hiring undocumented workers.
As a state senator, Brattin voted for legislation making it a crime for an immigrant to be found in Missouri after being deported, requiring public universities to charge out-of-state tuition to undocumented immigrants and denying them the A+ scholarship program.
Irwin, Labrue and Alford likewise say they want to secure the border.
“We’ve got to finish President Trump’s wall, we must deport illegal aliens,” Alford said during the debate. “We have enough jobs here in America for Americans to fill and we need to stop paying people to stay at home and not work so those positions can be filled so we can get our nation back on track.”
Brattin and Burks, both veterans, don’t want transgender people serving in the military.
The Obama administration reversed the ban on openly trans military service in 2016, but in August 2017 the Trump administration reinstated it. In January 2021, President Biden reversed Trump’s ban.
Burks said that since transgender people are nondeployable during their transition period, they should only be allowed to serve under the sex they were assigned at birth.
“I have a few service members that I served with who are transgender,” Burks said. “At the time they served in their born gender, and I think that's an appropriate way for transgender service members to serve. I'm not trying to put anybody back in a closet, but we also have to recognize that there are several physical and psychological conditions that disqualify somebody from serving in the military.”
At the debate, Brattin said transgender people should be banned from the military.
“I find it to be a difficult situation to say yes but not realize the ramifications that will come, the aftermath of that,” Brattin said. “I don’t want to adopt any policy that will end up turning our military into a social experiment.”
Alford and Bruce both said that they would support transgender military members so long as there was no conflict with their service.
“I believe the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ situation makes the most sense for our military and our country,” Bruce said. “As long as it doesn’t affect the purpose of our military, as long as our military stays strong and it’s not something our leaders focus on, I believe that we can coexist together.”
Jack Truman, a Democrat from Lamar, and Randy Langkraehr, a Libertarian from Warrensburg, will face the winner of the Republican primary on Nov. 8. Political forecasters consider the 4th district to be solidly Republican and rate the possibility that either will best the GOP nominee, whoever that turns out to be, as highly unlikely.