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Eleven seats. Jake Zimmerman told the West County Dems that that’s the magic number to take back the House in Missouri. Eleven is a lot of seats to take, so Dems will be looking to expand the playing field from the obvious chances.

Of the close-to-thirty Republican-held seats that might possibly be vulnerable next year, it’s easy to identify the top ten. Webster Groves, a St. Louis suburb, is a great example of an obvious chance for us. Last year, Jim Trout, a relatively unknown candidate, didn’t have big bucks but he knocked on a lot of doors and came within 150 votes of toppling a three term incumbent Republican. That’s three terms the Republican had.  So Trout’s opponent is termed out next year, and you’d better believe that we’ll be targeting that race like crazy and so will the Rs.

Jim Trout and Jeanne Kirkton, who made a run for that seat in ’04, are vying for the nomination, so Jake figures that one way or another, we’re going to have a good candidate there. And if the Dems have a good year with high turnout, in a district with that DPI and no incumbent, we ought to win that sucker.

We’ve got a bunch of opportunities like that around the state, for instance several in suburban Kansas City.  Another top spot we’ll be targeting is in south St. Louis County:

Perhaps you’ll remember Jim Lembke, the diabolical, despicable Jim Lembke, who’s now running for the state Senate, and who must be stopped at all costs. But for purposes of the House, the diabolical, despicable Jim Lembke leaves that seat open. And suddenly you don’t have the hard-working creature of Satan, who’s been there for, like, six years, you’ll have some new creature of Satan, who nobody really knows who they are yet. And that’s potentially four or five percentage points of difference with a good Democratic candidate. Thank god we have a good Democratic candidate, whose name is Vicki (Englund), and she’s been working hard and raising money early. I like that district. Republicans’ll probably invest some money there because they’ll try and force us to work for it.  But, you know what, I think the odds are very good we’re going to win it.

Jake could mention other great opportunites like that one, but where it really gets interesting is in the second and third tier opportunities. Those races are what give us a chance to get to that magic number of eleven–and to give Jake a chance to be called Mr. Chairman instead of Hey Dumbo. There are so many Nancy Boyda opportunities. Deb Lavender is just one of a crowd of Boyda-type candidates.

The seat that Judi Parker ran for last time, for example. That seat has the potential to be open because Jim Avery’s been expressing no interest in running again as the incumbent. And there are multiple open seats in St. Charles.  Nobody thinks of St. Charles as a hotbed of Democratic territory:

But make no mistake.  Claire McCaskill is a U.S. senator today because of St. Charles and Springfield. Think about that. You know, lots of people like to pat themselves on the back about how, you know, St. Louis came out great for Claire. But it came out for Claire about the way it’s supposed to come out for any Democratic candidate. Ditto Kansas City and the area of eastern Jackson County.  But St. Chuck! St. Chuck turned out to the tune of 30,000 more than she was supposed to get there, than those old DPI numbers said. Springfield showed up in the neighborhood of about 18,000 votes more than the DPI numbers said Claire was supposed to get there.

Now that tells you a couple of things.  First of all, it tells you that demographics change, that the DPI numbers reflect past elections. And, what it really tells you is that there is a shift going on.

It’s like the shift that’s taken place in St. Louis County.  In the seventies, that was a Republican bastion. Democrats couldn’t dream of winning there.  And most intelligent observers of the process would have said it was going to stay that way.  

But it didn’t stay that way. Part of the change was about white flight to suburbs like St. Charles and part of it was just about political maturation. But whatever the reason, St. Louis County is now overwhelmingly Democratic and elects an African-American County Executive, Charlie Dooley.

St. Charles, too, is facing many of the same pressures that turned St. Louis County Democratic.  It’s no longer just acres on acres of new developments, mixed with a few farmhouses, filled with people who moved out there to get away from people with a different skin color.

It’s maturing. Some of the people there have already raised their kids. Local issues are developing as the communities solidify, and land use is becoming an issue. There’s conflict between the Adolphus Busch camp, people who want to protect their duck hunting rights, and the developers. The fights on city councils and the recalls of councilmen over whether to protect land or doom it to strip malls are signs that this community is maturing and that we have a more competitive chance there.

It’s not an accident that Dems have three good opportunities in St. Charles next year.  The first of those chances will come as a special election on primary day, Feb. 5th. Tom Fann is running for the seat that Republican Carl Bearden resigned from. It’s not the closest shot of the three districts, but it’s a real chance. And if any you want to contribute time and shoe leather, you could do a lot of good because in a special election anything can happen. And if Fann wins, whammo, we have the power of incumbency in that district.

So, between now and next November, Jake Zimmerman and Rachel Storch will be huddling behind closed doors, deciding where to put their resources, asking themselves: “Where can we win? Where can’t we win? Where have we got a shot? And where should we get involved on the ground just to make life miserable for the Republicans?  

And, of course–as always–they’re at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to money. They’re sitting on about $200,000 right now, whereas the Republican HDCCC has about $800,000. What’s interesting about the gap is that both sides are getting about the same amounts from institutional sources–from the sort of people who just want to back a winner. They’ve been writing checks in about the same amounts to both sides, which is a pretty good gauge of what those folks think is coming.

The difference in funding is that individual Republicans can put the arm on individual wealthy contributors and get money from sources like the local Chamber of Commerce. Those candidates raise more money than our candidates do and turn a lot of it over to their HDCCC.

One way to put a dent in the funding difference is to urge Democratic legislators in safe districts to contribute to the HDCCC. Any of you who are regular readers of the national blogs will remember that sites like Kos, MyDD, and others put pressure in the last election cycle on Democrats in safe districts to contribute from their campaign war chests so that the DCCC could help out candidates in close districts. That’s a project we need to undertake in Missouri this cycle.

Jake suggested that those of us living in safe Democratic districts make it a project of ours to find out whether our reps have contributed to the HDCCC. If they haven’t, we need to urge them to do so. Let me take it a step further.  As the campaign season progresses, this blog site will collect that sort of data and put pressure on Democratic reps in safe districts to invest some of their money for the good of the party.

But, at the end of the day, how our party does in an election is less about how much money we have and about how Jake and Rachel strategize than it is about having good candidates. It is the job of all activists to keep an eye out for the people who’d make good candidates.  

In Chesterfield, for example, that Republican affluent bastion, with a DPI of 42, the right candidate could pull it off.  Jane Cunningham, the wingnut who’s held that seat, is more interested in censoring people’s crotch activities than in good governance.  But she’s popular. And she’s gone. Okay, not gone. She’s running for the state senate, and as such presents a threat that, like Lembke, must be stopped at all costs. But her House seat is empty, and that means that you can take away five DPI points from the Republican candidate. It means that, with no incumbent to face, the right Democrat might able to take that seat.  

Maybe a strong D candidate wouldn’t win there, but, if not, we’ll win somewhere else, we’ll take some of those second and third tier races. And the more good candidates we field, the more we’ll spread the other side’s resources thin, increasing our chances of taking those eleven magic seats.