A day on the campaign trail starts at 6 a.m. every morning for Randi McCallian, who is running for U.S. House in Missouri’s 8th Congressional District. But first up on her to-do list each day is feeding the chickens and letting the dogs out. Once she’s grabbed a bit of breakfast, McCallian, her husband, Chase, and their two daughters, head for separate parts of the house to start their days. Chase works from home, so he and Randi retreat to office areas while the kids start the day off right with some morning cartoons.
Then begins a daily cycle of messaging, meetings, and media correspondence that characterize the new lifestyle taken on by McCallian, one of many women who have stepped forward to run for political office in conservative-leaning areas of rural Missouri.
Throughout the day, McCallian and her husband tag team their responsibilities at home, engaging with the girls and keeping their small farmstead moving forward. For them, the outdoor work involves a lot of regenerative farming projects like composting and cultivating on-site food chains to feed the chickens and pigs, among other things. In addition to the farm animals, they also manage a small domestic herd, consisting of two dogs and some foster kittens.
The campaign portions of McCallian’s day involve posting and interacting on social media platforms, responding to questions, and creating online content to share with different audiences.
“I take this part of my work very seriously because out in rural areas, people do not already have the same big-picture context they might in an area with more news access from radio and TV stations,” McCallian says. “In many parts of the district, people even struggle for accessible internet coverage.”
In her case, trying to cover for those gaps means she edits and rewrites a lot of her content several times before sending it out.
Usually the tag team part of the day closes about six, when everyone sits down to dinner. McCallian shared that in their house, Chase is the better cook. He first stepped into that role when McCallian was pregnant with their first daughter.
“Chase wanted us eating healthier than our fast-food grad school diet,” McCallian said. “Problem is: I’m a baker, I love sweets, so Chase had to start learning to cook when he realized all we’d get from me was snack foods and desserts!”
Then it’s baths and bedtime for the kids by 8, with the adult McCallians putting in some more work until about 11. Randi does another pass at content—“editing it to death,” was her expression—fills out forms for possible endorsements, and previews news items to spark tomorrow’s content.
Occasionally they will watch a movie.
The stories of other women running campaigns offer variations on the same theme—both in public facing and more introspective ways.
In Kristen Radaker Sheafer’s case, she squeezes her campaign for U.S. House in Missouri’s 7th Congressional District around the edges and into the slow spots of her full-time job. She runs a small, successful bakery, with a staff of four plus herself, where special event orders often keep the ovens going into the evening.
The day-to-day juggling act is perhaps most extensive for Dr. Ayanna Shivers, Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Lincoln University and a Methodist minister. She is running for Missouri State Senate, in the newly reconfigured 18th District. Her campaign is one of many plates to keep spinning, alongside a full-time position and several part-time roles. These include helping run a nonprofit youth center and holding a seat on the city council for a mid-Missouri town of around 12,000—she served as only the second black mayor in the city’s history, before stepping down last year.
Asked about the more psychological dimensions of life on the campaign trail, candidates shared an interesting range of insights and anecdotes about the emotional challenges that emerge when stepping into the public spotlight of politics, particularly as a woman.
Sheafer shared that at one candidate forum early in her campaign, a Republican candidate, an older man, offered that, “It is nice that we have a pretty girl in the race.” Though a few spicy retorts spring to mind in such moments, Sheafer said overall she does well to take comments like that in stride, as it’s just one more part of the mindset she is working to slowly change.
It’s not always vocal comments, though. Other times, amid constructive conversations, Sheafer has encountered moments when older men seem surprised by hearing her insight on an issue or appear taken aback to be challenged on something by a younger woman.
“It’s hard for anyone running for office to push past the tendency to feel imposter syndrome,” Sheafer said. “But those attitudes can definitely make the feeling even stronger for women.”
Dr. Shivers says she has not experienced much in the way of trolling or hostility from people but thought part of the reason may be that she lacks a strong social media presence, where people are often emboldened and shielded by anonymity. Her role as a minister may also play a part in the way people approach her, with religious life playing an important role in many rural communities.
In spite of the way outdated attitudes can make the campaign harder, these women repeatedly expressed some version of the idea that when people bring low expectations of their ability—whether it’s because they’re a woman, a Democrat, or both—it also sets them up to create real change.
“When people start off with their bristles out because of preconceived notions, my ability to listen and look at things from their side can be really disarming,” Sheafer explained.
“The troll comments can sting sometimes,” McCallian said. “But I feel hope too, from the fact that I am getting at where the sore spots are that need work before healing can happen.”
McCallian says that perspective, rooted in empathy and persistence, grew out of her background in health and education.
The Lay of the Land: The maps below show 2020 voting results for the two congressional districts highlighted in this story. As you can see, the Republican U.S. House candidate carried the majority of the votes in almost all of the counties in each district (Graphics and analysis by Sarah Melotte).
Another common thread is this: the candidates describe how shifting the conversation to underlying issues and away from labels, burdened by the heavy baggage of preconceptions and polarization, makes it easier to see the authentic, amazing side of people from all different walks of life.
“One of the things I hear the most often is people saying they’ve never talked to a state Senate candidate,” Shivers said.
McCallian touched on this, too. She’s found it puzzling that her Republican opponents receive so much financial support from across the district, in some cases more than $1 million, because when she is knocking on her neighbors’ doors or talking with voters at community events, they are delighted that any politician—red or blue—is actually listening at all and seems to care about the fears and frustrations they are facing.
Running for office can disrupt a life inside and out, and these women are campaigning in solidly Republican districts where any forward progress for them can feel like an uphill climb—steeper still given recent state policy trends and Supreme Court decisions. Yet, as these women seek common ground and shared values with voters, they say the good outweighs the bad. Having the chance to learn about their communities and make people feel heard gives them energy to keep climbing.