The highly contested race for Missouri’s 135th House district is going down to the wire.
On election night, Democratic challenger Betsy Fogle led incumbent Republican Rep. Steve Helms by just 34 votes — a narrow enough margin to trigger a recount.
And with hundreds of provisional ballots, military ballots and absentee ballots from across the county still outstanding, the highly competitive race was still too close to call as of 2 p.m. Wednesday.
One thing is for sure: the race has been just as competitive as folks expected.
Democrats identified the east Springfield district as a target seat after Homegrown Food owner Rob Bailey lost to Helms by just 836 votes in 2018.
But Republicans fought back this campaign cycle, flooding the market with negative ads designed to paint Fogle, a public health worker, as a radical candidate hell-bent on booting people off their health care plans, passing job-killing tax bills and defunding the police.
Missouri election results 2020:Real-time updates on Greene County, Springfield area races
Fogle said she wouldn’t do any of those things, but acknowledged in a recent interview her volunteers had heard from people in the district that wouldn’t vote for her because the attack ads made her look “scary.”
Another factor is also playing into the current dynamic: Vicke Kepling.
Republicans privately hoped the left-leaning Green Party candidate would peel some votes from Fogle and give Helms an advantage.
It appears that came to pass.
As of Tuesday night, Kepling received 681 votes, which, if transferred to Fogle’s total would have put her ahead of Helms by more than three percentage points.
While a lot of questions remain, the result of the race will become clearer in the coming days.
The clerk’s office is currently counting Greene County’s outstanding ballots and will come up with a provisional vote count for each candidate.
Then, if Helms’ and Fogle’s totals are still within a margin “equal to or less than one half of one percent” of the total votes cast for those two candidates, it will trigger an automatic recount.
(For some context, while the number will likely change as more ballots come in, that current margin is 83 votes.)
Even if the totals are outside that threshold, the losing party could still request a recount if they lost by less than one percent of votes cast, according to state statute.
In other words, it’ll be a few days before voters know for sure who won.
Katie Kull covers local government for the News-Leader. Got a story to tell? Give her a call at 417-408-1025 or email her at email@example.com. You can also support local journalism at News-Leader.com/subscribe.