Missouri voters will head to the polls today in a closely-watched primary. We lost a congressional seat in the last census, and as a result, we have two sitting Democratic Representatives — Lacy Clay and Russ Carnahan — facing off against one another in the newly-redrawn Missouri First. The winner of the primary will hold the seat. That is just a given because the district is strongly Democratic and has a lot of organized labor support.
The best chance to pick up the Democratic seat we are losing as a result of dropping from nine districts to eight is in the Missouri Fourth where Cass County Prosecuting Attorney Teresa Hensley (full disclosure, she and I are friends outside of politics as well as allies in it) is unopposed in today’s primary for the right to square off against Rep. Vickie Hartzler in November. Two years ago Hartzler rode the Tea Party wave to a victory over the powerful and seemingly-invulnerable House Armed Services Committee chairman Ike Skelton. The district is populated with rural Republicans and conservative-leaning Democrats in the Kansas City exurbs. It is also the home to Whiteman AFB and a lot of retired military personnel — a voting bloc that has been on the receiving end of a rude awakening since Hartzler fell in line with the ultra-conservative wing that has wreaked havoc in the House and failed to protect the interests of the base like Skelton always had. Farmers are another important constituency in the Fourth, and they are steamed that no Farm Bill has been passed and no drought relief has been forthcoming as they watch their crops wither in the record heat and worst drought in decades. Their anger is compounded by the fact that many of them helped make Vickie Hartzler a millionaire by buying their farm equipment from her family’s farm implement dealership. Long story short: In the Missouri Fourth, voters will have a choice between a Republican who has failed key constituencies in the name of ideological purity and fealty to the tea-folk, and a Democrat who checks all the right boxes: she’s a tough-on-crime prosecutor who has lived her entire life in the district, is active in her church and is strong on the Second Amendment.
Senator Claire McCaskill is defending her Class I seat and will face off against either Rep. Todd Akin, St. Louis businessman John Brunner or Sarah Palin’s pick, Sarah Steelman, who many people (okay, snarky lefty bloggers) consider the prototype for the better-known Sister Sarah, Patron Saint of the Perpetually and Professionally Aggrieved. All three are flawed, and they have done a tremendous amount of damage to one another, as is reflected in Claire McCaskill’s slow but steady climb in the polls and gradual closing of the gap. Where she had been as much as ten points down in some polls against the three republicans, she is now within striking distance of the margin of error. Democrats are crossing their fingers and hoping for an Akin victory because they think he will be the easiest for Claire to vanquish in November. He has a long record that independents will recoil from in horror.
Moving from the federal races to the state-level races, let’s dispense with the Governor’s race first. “Landslide” Jay Nixon is pretty much guaranteed a second term, barring being found in bed with both a live boy and a dead girl, and even then it would be close. He served as our Attorney General for sixteen years before he was elected Governor in 2008. He will face the winner of a four-way primary that Republican businessman Dave Spence is favored to win standing up…and when he does, you can expect Nixon too hammer him mercilessly over his ties to a bank that was bailed out with TARP funds. Nixon is another one of those Democrats who checks all the right boxes to get elected state-wide in this reddening state. There is even talk among people who are in-the-know about him throwing his hat in the ring and running for President in 2016. I’m inclined to believe that there is something to the talk because he has definitely been getting some coaching on his stage presence and public speaking skills in the last year or so.
In the Lt. Governor’s race it is questionable whether hapless Peter-the-Tweeter Kinder will survive a challenge by Brad Lager, an extreme wingnut who has made a name for himself in the State Senate by espousing extreme positions that the base loves but that will alienate independents and moderates. The Kansas City Star reluctantly endorsed Kinder in spite of all his many flaws — including frequenting a nightclub known for its “pantsless parties” because they find Kinder less objectionable than Lager, who has received over $1.5 million in campaign donations from three of Missouri’s richest citizens who are miffed that their wealth doesn’t automatically entitle them to run the state. If Lager wins, look for the key issue to be our court system. Missouri has a non-partisan court system that is free from political influence, a situation that Democrats love and we proudly point out that other states have emulated what is known as the Missouri Plan for a reason: It is fair and apolitical, as we feel a judiciary ought to be. Republicans, on the other hand, are rankled by it and have made a hobby out of trying to undo it ever since they took over both chambers of the state house in the 2000 election when voter-approved term limits kicked in and Democrats became the minority party for the first time in my lifetime.
On the Democratic side, we have what is known as a deep bench. Three women have run the most civil primary race I have ever seen, indeed, it might be the cleanest race in the history of the state. Susan Montee is an attorney and CPA who has served as both State Auditor and as Chair of the Missouri Democratic Party. Judy Baker is a former state legislator who lost a squeaker for the US House in 2008 to Rep. Blaine Leutkemeyer and has since been appointed by President Obama to a position in Health and Human Services. Sara Lampe is a four-term state representative from Springfield. Each and every one of them is not only qualified, but far preferable to either of the Republicans. All three are to be commended for running a civil and issues-oriented campaign, and any one of the three would be a fine Lt. Governor.
The Attorney General is a former Republican who switched parties back in 2007 when he was a state senator. He will face off in November against either Ed Martin, a former staffer for one-term-blunder Matt Blunt, or Adam Lee Warren, a county prosecutor and JAG officer with the Missouri National Guard. Warren easily got the endorsement of the major newspapers in the state because Martin carries a lot of baggage from that fiasco of an administration where he served as Chief of Staff. He not only has the whiff of scandal about him from his time with Blunt, he also has the stink of the loser hanging heavy about him. He has run for practically everything at some point or another, and lost every single time, and he certainly doesn’t really represent any threat to Koster, in spite of his hysterical shrieking about the evils of Obamacare. Warren would be the better choice, but doesn’t have the name recognition that Martin does. No matter who wins the republican nomination today, he will have a tough time against Chris Koster who has built a solid record to run on over the past fifteen years or so. (He made his bones as Cass County prosecutor, and during his time in that office he convicted serial killer John Robinson.)
Secretary of State Robin Carnahan decided not to run for reelection, opening up an opportunity for Democratic state representative Jason Kander. He will win easily, but the race in November is up for grabs. On the Republican ticket, three state legislators are vying for the nomination. All three are strong supporters of a photo-ID requirement to vote. Missouri passed one of those apostasies in 2006, but it was struck down by the Missouri Supreme Court for violating both the state and federal constitutions before it could take effect, and Democrats in the state house have kept attempts to pass another one at bay. Everyone who follows politics in Missouri expects the photo-ID issue to be the issue in the fall campaign for SoS.
As for the General Assembly and the state senate, the balance of power is not going to change. Republicans are firmly in control and that won’t be changing this year or, frankly, any time soon. The Missouri Democratic Party has so neglected the rural areas over the last three decades that it will take several cycles and a lot of commitment to a 114 county strategy, and I frankly just don’t see that happening any time soon.
Redistricting did give Democrats a gift, however. In Missouri, state senators serve in the numbered district that they are elected to, and redistricting moved the 10th SD from Midtown Kansas City, where I live, to a rural area on the other side of the state. That means that Jolie Justus, a liberal, openly gay woman now represents a rural district on the other side of the state. My home is no longer in the 10th, it’s in the 7th, and the state senator who will represent me for the next two years will be determined today and will be either state representative Jason Holsman or Jackson County legislator Crystal Williams. This gift of an additional Democratic-held seat means that the state senate will have a veto-proof minority for at least the next two years.
Finally, there is a really, really horrible constitutional amendment on the ballot that, if it passes, will destroy public education in our state. Known as the “right to pray” amendment, it would have the net effect of allowing any school child in the state to refuse to do any assignment by pleading that it’s against their religion. It shouldn’t pass, but given the turnout in primary elections of rural evangelicals, we’re bracing ourselves for the worst.