At one time, St. Charles County, across the Missouri river from St. Louis County, was dependable Democratic territory, but for too many years now, Democratic activists knocking doors there have been pitied for having to work such unfriendly territory.  In fact, Democrats in Lincoln County, just to the west, having seen Republicans making some inroads in their own county, have wailed that they don’t want to turn into another St. Charles.

However, Kristy Manning, a young activist who lives in St. Charles, has a lot of hope for that area. She sees it trending Democratic and sees several areas on the brink of turning blue again.

As recently as 2002, four St. Charles Republican reps–Sherman Parker, Carl Bearden, Cynthia Davis, and Tom Dempsey–went unopposed.  By contrast, in 2006, not only did Democrats file in almost every race, but their numbers rose.  Where before Ds had typically pulled votes in the high thirties, last year those numbers rose well into the forties.

Look, for example, at how well Ed Applebaum did in the special election against Tom Dempsey last September for a state senate seat.  Dempsey has been known forever in St. Charles County. Applebaum, who got into the race with only six weeks left and who had scant funds compared to his rival, still managed to eke out 44 percent of the vote.  Dempsey had more than $417,000 to spend, which figures out to more than $62 a vote.  Applebaum spent only $1.74 per vote and relied instead on Democratic ideas and a good ground game.  Pro-Vote says that their volunteers knocked on more than 13,000 doors in those six weeks.  

Just think what Democrats could have achieved if they’d had more time and hadn’t been outspent 40-1.  A 10-1 ratio would have closed that 44-56 gap considerably.

Manning points out that the districts where Dems stand the best chance of taking House seats in St. Charles next year are 15 (Sally Faith), 16 (Carl Bearden’s seat until he resigned–special election in February), and 17 (Vicki Schneider).  

The seat in the 15th is always close and generally swings on 200 votes or so, depending on how hard the Democrat is willing to work.  In 2006, the Dem, Tom Green, got 48 percent of the vote. No D has announced in that race yet, though the local Democratic committee has had conversations with someone they like for the spot.

Bearden’s open seat, the 16th, looks like a tossup between the Democrat, Tom Fann, and a Republican named Mark Parkinson.

In the 17th in 2006, Kenny Biermann, running on not much money, got 49 percent of the vote against incumbent Republican Vicky Schneider.  Biermann realizes he could have worked even harder than he did–always a valuable realization for a candidate–so Schneider had better pull out all the stops next year if she expects to keep the seat.  And she knows it.  She will sometimes vote the right way on education and labor issues–a tacit recognition that her seat isn’t safe.

More proof of how the scene has changed in St. Charles is that in the 2004 gubernatorial race, there was a 21,000 vote difference between Claire McCaskill and Matt Blunt.  Last year, though, there was only a 12,000 vote gap between McCaskill and Talent.  That 9,000 vote gain is the sort of improvement that can go a long way toward swinging statewide elections.  Consider, for example, that Holden won the governor’s seat in 2000 by only 20,000 votes.

It’s not easy to pinpoint why Dems are making such gains in St. Charles.  Guns are off the table; that helps.  And even the abortion issue is nowhere near as hot as it used to be.  Manning says that in 2002, she was constantly asked, as she knocked on doors, whether the Dem was pro-life. In the Applebaum/Dempsey race last September, she says she wasn’t asked that question “once, not once.”  Polls bear out her sense of the change, because they indicate that few people base their choice of a candidate on that issue anymore.  Sixty percent of voters say they wouldn’t make that the deciding factor.

The biggest reason for the gains must surely be that people are seeing how Republicans don’t deliver on the kitchen table issues of jobs, education, and, above all, health care.  

But whatever the reasons, the bottom line is that St. Charles County is one of the best places in the state to pick up House seats next November.  The new Democratic State Chairman, John Temporiti, is debating where to place strategic Democratic operatives to influence the next election.  He couldn’t do better than St. Charles.

Furthermore, the gains there bode well for influencing the race for Todd Akin’s seat.  The West County Dems have been working hard to ID Democratic voters in West St. Louis County, part of the second congressional district.  That area is too strongly Republican to switch to the D column, but a big shift in D numbers in St.Charles could help push the Dem contender past Akin in that congressional district.

So, with Lincoln County Democrats pushing back, determined not to “become another St. Charles County” and with St. Charles itself trending back in the right direction, the electoral outlook in this part of the state is looking bright.