Why Democrat Alissia Canady Says She's Not The Underdog In Missouri's Lieutenant Governor Race
Despite a distinct fundraising disadvantage and a lack of statewide name recognition, the former Kansas City Council member has been active on the campaign trail, participating in hundreds of virtual events to level the playing field.
At this time last year, Alissia Canady was settling back into a life outside of politics. After four years on the Kansas City council and a strong but disappointing third place finish in the race for mayor, she was ready for things to calm down.
Then in February, about a month before the candidate filing deadline, she was asked to run for Missouri's lieutenant governor as a Democrat.
“So I had basically 30 days to decide if I was in or not and build a team and move forward," Canady said. "And so with no money...that was kind of a daredevil thing.”
With no money in her campaign coffers and no team of volunteers assembled, Canady set off on a statewide race against a well-known incumbent — in the middle of a pandemic.
On the surface, the race for lieutenant governor looks like a done deal. The incumbent, longtime Republican Senator Mike Kehoe, has dwarfed Canady in fundraising — sitting on a war chest more than 10 times bigger than hers.
But after a stronger-than-expected finish in Kansas City's 2019 mayoral race, Canady said she knows how to run a grassroots campaign. And with the pandemic forcing many events to go virtual, she said she’s been able to cover twice as much ground.
A bootstraps campaign
With no money to hire a campaign manager, Canady immediately started booking virtual events that spanned the state, sometimes for groups as small as five or six people.
“I just started zooming. And the whole month of April it was really hard to get people to give you money. But they would have the conversation. ‘Why are you running? What do you want to do?’”
To date, Canady said she’s participated in nearly 1,000 virtual events. She said the pandemic forced her to adapt, allowing her to reach communities in Missouri that might not have been on a traditional campaign tour.
“I feel like we have been able to cover a much broader range of engagement than had we been retail politicking in person,” Canady said.
She’s also had the help of some dedicated volunteers, including her mother, Regina Canady.
Regina Canady has worn many hats during her daughter’s campaign, from making phone calls to shipping posters and accepting donations. After the mayoral race, she wasn’t eager to see her daughter return to politics — but she wasn’t surprised when she did.
“Because she has a heart and a passion for this, everything that she wanted to do in the mayor's race, she realized that she could do it in the lieutenant governor's race, but on a much broader scale,” Canady said.
Despite the fundraising deficit, Regina Canady said the countless hours her daughter has spent engaging voters in virtual forums and town halls will be enough to win.
“Not just because I'm her mother… she has put her whole heart and soul into this and she reaches out to people and she does what she has to do on a daily basis to win. So I expect nothing less than for her to win,” Canady said.
Canady and Kehoe on the issues
Aside from being first in line if the governor is impeached or absent, the lieutenant governor also presides over the state Senate and serves, by state statute, as the chief advocate for the elderly and for veterans.
They also serve on several boards that focus on early childhood education, economic development, mental health and tourism.
Kehoe was appointed to his current post in 2018 after then-Lieutenant Governor Mike Parson became governor. He has focused heavily on promoting Missouri’s tourism industry and has supported initiatives like Buy Missouri, which promotes Missouri companies and manufacturers.
Canady said she looks forward to boosting funding for rural elementary schools and working more closely with the children’s division.
“This administration has cut over 200 positions in that department. It’s already underfunded. These are kids who are in foster care, who have been abused and neglected, are dealing with some kind of family dysfunction. We’re letting them down,” Canady said.
In the current climate of racial unrest and heightened tensions between the community and law enforcement — Canady said she’s better equipped to provide “culturally competent” leadership. Plus, she said her experience as an assistant county prosecutor gives her experience that her opponent lacks.
Asked on KCUR’s Up To Date how he would improve race relations in Missouri, Kehoe said he understands being the minority, after attending grade school in urban St. Louis.
“I believe there's a true desire, no matter where you live in Missouri, for people to not see color at all or ethnicity or religion. I believe that's really in its heart,” Kehoe said.
Kehoe said while he supports protesters, their message can get lost when “anarchists start breaking windows and starting fires.”
On the coronavirus pandemic, Kehoe said he supported Governor Parson’s decision not to enact a statewide mask mandate.
“I’m not opposed to masks at all. I’m opposed to mandates. And Missouri is very, very, very diverse,” Kehoe said. “It just is not a one size fits all state.”
Canady, on the other hand, has criticized the current administration’s response to the pandemic. She said Kehoe has largely been absent the past six months.
“When you talk about ability to lead, I’d go up against the current elected in this position any day. And the voters have the ability to compare us side by side and make informed decisions,” Canady said.
A competitive election?
When it comes to the numbers, Kehoe has a clear and decisive advantage over Canady. According to the latest campaign finance report posted in October, he has raised just over $2 million this election.
Canady, meanwhile, has raised a total of $93,000. Canady has yet to file a report for October.
But some political analysts say that doesn’t guarantee a win for Kehoe.
Debra Leiter is a political science professor at the University of Missouri Kansas City. She said Canady has been much more visible this campaign than her opponent. But she said that’s a common strategy for an incumbent.
“The front runner always has the bigger risk of saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing and losing, whereas the challenger is the person who's much more likely to make gains appearing in these sort of public forums,” Leiter said.
Still, she said more competitive races at the top of the ballot could give down ballot races more energy.
“If we look at statewide polls for other races, we do see a lot of competitiveness. And there's a lot of reasons to suspect that what will happen in the governor's race will have a pretty drastic influence for the lieutenant governor's race,” Leiter said.
Plus, she said a Canady win would be historic. If selected, Canady would be the first Black woman ever elected to statewide office in Missouri.
“I think that this always generally matters, people really like to vote for firsts,” Leiter said. “But given the salience of both issues of gender and of race at the national level, I certainly think that may end up playing an important part of the dynamic at the local level.”