In the blocks around the square in downtown Liberty, the seat of government in western Missouri’s Clay County, there’s a varied amount of businesses, restaurants and shops.
There’s just as varied an amount of political opinions ahead of the Nov. 6 midterm election. Dustin McAdams tends bar at Rock and Run Brewery and Pub, and while he’s sure he’ll vote in this year’s election, he has no loyalty to one party.
“It’s the issues at hand. It’s the candidate themselves. I’ve never been a big Republican, Democrat, none of that matters to me,” McAdams said. And, fitting for someone who works at a brewery, he said relatability is also important.
“I want that type of person to be the one I would live next door to, that would be my neighbor, I could go and have a beer with on Friday night,” he said. “(And) keep their promises, man. Keep their promises and come through and do right by the American people.”
McAdams is the type of Clay County voter that candidates in every party are looking to attract, voters that are interested in a wide variety of issues but also want candidates with integrity and a commitment to working across the aisle.
Missouri’s fifth-largest county has grown from 184,000 people in the 2000 Census to an estimated population of 242,874 in 2017. Both parties have been competitive, though Republicans mostly have held state legislative seats. But there are signs that may be shifting.
In 2016, Donald Trump won here by fewer than 11 percentage points; he took the rest of the state by 19 percentage points. But the margins in the 2016 races for governor and U.S. Senate in Clay County were far closer. Voters preferred Democrat Jason Kander over GOP incumbent U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, and Republican Eric Greitens narrowly edged Democrat Chris Koster. And in June, a state Senate seat that had been held by Republicans for 12 years flipped during a special election when then-state Rep. Lauren Arthur defeated Rep. Kevin Corlew by almost 20 points.
Diane Kruse of Gladstone has cast ballots for both parties in recent years.
“I’ve always considered myself open. I don’t consider myself Republican or Democrat. I always wanted to vote for the most intelligent person who has experience,” she said.
But to gain her vote this year, she said candidates have to show signs of bipartisanship.
“I think they need to listen to people, they need to listen to what the people are saying, what the average person really deals with: having to work a couple of jobs just to get by, having to face racism, having to face difficulty in getting employment and getting good wages,” Kruse said.
For Daryl Mace, who owns a shoe repair shop in Liberty, listening means following through on promises.
“I vote in hopes of making changes,” he said. “I’d like to see them for once do something they say they’re going to do.”
Voters that KCUR spoke with cited abortion, health care, the economy, immigration and the environment as important issues for the midterms. They also said they hope politicians find solutions to what they see as the divisive nature of political rhetoric in recent years, and that their decisions at the ballot box would reflect that sentiment.
“I don’t think my beliefs have shifted, but I think my interest in politics has gotten keener. It’s much more important to me now,” said Amy Hearst, a recruiter from Kansas City. “I also think that civility in politics has become more important to me too. So I don’t think I ever thought about that before, and I think about that all the time now.”
Sherie Stanich was one of the voters who gave Trump an edge in Clay County. The North Kansas City virtual reality technology company owner still thinks he is doing a good job due to him being “for the people” and having a positive effect on the unemployment numbers.
But when it comes to what she wants out of a politician? “Bring people together, I guess that what I would say, instead of dividing people, which is what’s going on,” she said. “I don’t know who’s responsible for that.”
But Dennis Rone, also from North Kansas City, said the chance to voice objections to Trump and his policies is a reason to head to the polls this year.
“(I) just think it can be better than it is,” said Rone. “It’s got to. It’s got to.”
If these Clay County voters are any indication, candidates in both parties will have to work to earn their votes and show they match their values of their would-be constituents.
This story is part of 'Beyond the Ballot,' a collaborative reporting project by KBIA, KCUR, KSMU and St. Louis Public Radio about the motivations and desires of Missouri voters in November's midterm elections.