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Last week, Ronny Richardson, the executive director of the Missouri House Democratic Campaign Committee, talked to me about the House races that the Committee considers its top priorities.

He started with two incumbent seats that will be a challenge to hold, both in the north central part of the state, both heavily Republican and yet both won by Democrats in ’06–by narrow margins. Rebecca McClanahan’s race in District 2 (Putnam, Sullivan, and Adair counties, butting up against the Iowa border) was a squeaker. She got 50.7 percent of the vote and pulled that off because, as a nurse, she emphasized the health care issue in a poor district that had been hit hard by Republican health care cuts. She also capitalized on her ties to the one liberal stronghold in the area, Truman State University. Perhaps Republicans didn’t take her seriously enough. They won’t make that mistake again.

Tom Shively, a former educator, is running for re-election in District 8 (directly beneath the 2nd, Linn, Macon, and Shelby counties). Like McClanahan, he emphasized the health care issue in his ’06 victory (51 percent of the vote) in a county hurting from the Medicaid cuts. Ronny tells me that a contributing factor in Tom’s win is that he’s a “super nice, likable guy”, whereas the Republican incumbent he defeated was … not. Kathy Chinn alienated lots of people, and in rural areas, that kind of reputation gets noticed.

Those are the only two Democratic incumbent races Ronny focused on, but he did mention that a top priority is to see that Jill Schupp keeps the seat Sam Page is vacating (HD82) in the Dem column. And he believes she will succeed. She and her volunteers have been knocking on those doors.

As far as seats that have been in Republican hands, the St. Louis Metro area has five that the HDCC is particularly focused on. Jeanne Kirkton, whom I wrote about last month, is running for an open seat in HD 91 (Webster Groves, a well-to-do suburb of St. Louis).

Until 2006, Webster was a safe seat for the Rs:

2000: Fares(R) 54.1, Webb(D)45.9

2002: Fares (R) 57.5, Sifton (D) 42.5

2004: Fares (R) 82.6, Henry (Green) 17.4

But last time around, Jim Trout came within a hair: Fares–50.7, Trout–49.3. He lost by 149 votes out of 17,275–against a well established incumbent. Now it’s an open seat. And there’s this to consider, as well: Jeanne ran for Gibbons’ state Senate seat in 2004. She lost the race 51.9 to 46.4, but in HD 91, she got 51 percent of the vote.

The other St. Louis County candidate with a good shot at taking a Republican seat is Vicki Englund (HD 85). Vicki has worked on campaigns for other people, most notably Representative Pat Yaeger, so she has a good grasp of what she needs to do to win, and she has surrounded herself with experienced staff.

Her opponent, Cloria Brown, is a low profile candidate, one of those loyal Republican footsoldiers who got the nod because those in charge figured it was her turn. The seat has been held by Republican (hoo boy, is he Republican) Jim Lembke, who is running for the Senate, in one of the most hotly contested Senate races in the state. He’ll pull a lot of conservative voters to the polls, which can only benefit Cloria Brown. On the other hand, even when he held the House seat himself, he only managed to pull 52 percent in ’06 against Bob Burns–and that was when Lembke was an incumbent.

Tuesday and Wednesday I’ll write about the top tier races in St. Charles County, Columbia, and the western part of the state.