When I spoke to Jim Trout in mid July about his primary race against Steve Eagleton for the state senate seat Gibbons is vacating in Kirkwood (HD 15), Trout pointed out that if Eagleton won the primary, Republicans would go after him on grounds that his claims of Missouri residency were not legitimate. Trout said that he was not willing to go toe to toe with another Democrat over that issue but that Republicans would not be that squeamish.
He said that it is not the duty of the Secretary of State to spend state funds investigating the matter, but that Republicans would most certainly investigate such questions as where Eagleton renewed his driver’s license and his professional realtor’s license, as well as where he paid income taxes. Once they turned over the fruits of their investigations to Carnahan’s office, Eagleton might well find himself taken off the ballot.
In that case, I asked, would you be able to take his place on the ballot? No, he told me. He either had to beat Eagleton in the primary or forget it. And the likelihood of him defeating Eagleton wasn’t something the smart money was betting on. Eagleton (Senator Tom’s nephew) had a name like an 800 pound gorilla—hard to beat even if it just sits there and does nothing. Trout tells me that sometimes he could almost hear the snickers of those of who thought he was tilting at a windmill.
Trout and his volunteers got to work on a disciplined ground game, phoning or knocking on the door of every Democrat who regularly votes in primaries. Trout knows that Eagleton also had some volunteers on the ground, though how many he couldn’t easily measure. It looked as if Eagleton relied more on mailers and radio ads.
Last Tuesday evening, Jim edged by his opponent 50.2 percent to 49.8 percent. Jim said that at the victory party he looked around at the 30-40 people in the room and understood that by their intense efforts in the last few days of the campaign, each one had probably delivered an extra 35 votes or so, and that that had been enough to put him over the top.
The margin of victory Trout eked out depended on more than just effective campaign chess, though. The content of his message also mattered, Trout believes. He understands that when companies look for a place to locate, they’re looking for affordable colleges and affordable and fair health care delivery systems. They’re looking for an infrastructure that isn’t crumbling.
Without those assets in place, companies will get substandard workers and will end up paying the price for the way state government cuts corners. Republican insistence on doing government on the cheap is costing Missouri jobs. Trout says that Republicans haven’t been taking care of the farm. They’ve been burning the furniture to stay warm. Companies don’t want to locate in that kind of environment. If they’re looking to locate, they’d rather go to Iowa than Missouri.
Not that Eagleton would necessarily disagree with Trout’s message, but Eagleton’s own literature didn’t have as much vision. He focused instead on preventing internet bullying, for example, and on making sure that there was funding for papillomavirus testing. Both issues are worthy of attention, but they’re not going to grab voters who find themselves swimming against an economic riptide.
In any case, Trout squeaked by and now looks forward to facing Republican Eric Schmitt. Schmitt, who had no primary opposition, has had a year and a half to raise money and has accumulated $160,000. Trout is basically starting from scratch on the money front, but he says the offers of support are coming in quickly now.
And he says that this traditionally Republican district is statistically now about 50/50. In other words, polling shows the voters about evenly divided on party preference; more than 10,000 Democrats took ballots in the primary, compared to fewer than 10,000 Republicans, even though the Republicans had a hot gubernatorial contest to lure them to the polls; and, finally, McCaskill got 53 percent in the district in 2006.
The foul mood of the electorate this year gives Jim further reason for optimism. Republicans are on the defensive. He’s noticed that quite a few yard signs for Republican candidates are printed on blue backgrounds and don’t mention party affiliation. He plans to make sure that Kirkwood and Webster Groves residents know who the Democrat in the race is. Then, too, he says, Nixon and Obama will be playing a tune that attracts the majority of voters.
So he and his volunteers are planning to contact all the independents in the district next. That’s about 13,000 people. Let’s see, he and his crew have been knocking on about 500 doors a week. By my calculations, if they maintain that pace and call the same number of people, they should get to all 13,000 independent voters by D-Day. And if they can convince a little more than half of them to swing in his direction, he’ll be a state senator.