St. Louis Oracle

St. Louis-based political forecasting plus commentary on politics and events from a grassroots veteran with a mature, progressive anti-establishment perspective.

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The author of this blog has been a political junkie in St. Louis for over 50 years and was formerly involved in progressive politics. He is a retired attorney. Twitter: http://twitter.com/stloracle

Monday, November 24, 2014

Analysis of 2014 election in St. Louis County

St. Louis County voters just went through a highly unusual election for County Executive, but produced the usual result. Democrat Steve Stenger overcame the 2014 Republican wave and an open revolt on the part of African American leaders who publicly endorsed and worked for Republican Rick Stream, to eek out a narrow win (subject to possible recount). The St. Louis Post Dispatch (the area's only print daily) and St. Louis Public Radio have offered their somewhat simplistic analyzes, with which I disagree in part.

Analyzes based on raw vote noted that Stenger won north county, including the black townships, big, but lost his home base in south county. That was pretty much like the last election. I prefer to look instead at how the vote patterns differed between the elections.

The previous election for county executive was 2010, a Republican wave election much like 2014. Democratic County Executive Charley Dooley won reelection by four points, 51%-47%. But this year Dooley, the county's first African American to hold the post, lost a contentious Democratic Primary to Stenger. Four days after Dooley's stinging defeat, unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown was killed by a white policeman in Ferguson. Stenger stood by the decision of his political ally, Democratic County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch, not to prosecute the officer without an indictment from a county grand jury. By the time of the general election, the grand jury had not announced a decision. In this environment, Stenger received 17 to 28 percentage points less support in the six townships with African American majorities than Dooley had received four years earlier. Stenger also underperformed by about 8 points in Creve Coeur Township, which includes a significant African American minority.

But while black support for Stenger was weak, black support for Stream was even weaker. Stream only picked up about 8 points of that defection, with the rest diffused among third-party and write-in candidates. Ordinarily black support for third-party candidates is much lower than white voters. African Americans' loyalty to the Democratic Party and especially its aversion to the Republican Party were far stronger than the organized black support for Stream. As a result, Stenger still handily beat Stream in the African American townships.

Nevertheless, the black defections would have been enough to erase the 4-point 2010 Democrat cushion if Stenger merely duplicated Dooley's vote from four years before in other areas. In most of the rest of the county, Stenger ran within a point or two of Dooley's 2010 performance, some up and some down. In Bonhomme Township (Stream's home base), Stream's strength caused Stenger to underperform Dooley by nearly five points.

Stream also beat Stenger in the four of the five townships comprising Stenger's council district . Yet that is where Stenger made up the votes he needed to win. Though trailing Stream there, Stenger ran four to six points better than Dooley. In blue-collar-Democrat Lemay Township, Stenger improved by more than 6 points, flipping a Dooley 2010 township loss to a Stenger 2014 win. All told, Stenger's overperformance (while losing) in south county offset enough of his underperformance (while winning) in black townships to maintain just enough of the four-point cushion from 2010.

So, in a nutshell, the template for this contest during a national Republican wave election was set four years before when Dooley won by four points. The biggest variance from the template was the African American revolt, which eliminated that cushion. The next biggest variance was home-base loyalty, with each candidate outperforming the template in his own base by about five points. Most of the rest of the county voted about like they had the time before, with variances canceling each other out. What made Stenger the winner was that Stenger's base (a county council district covering five townships) was bigger than Stream's base (a state rep district consisting mostly of just one township), making Stenger's relative home-base advantage decisive.

Other election observations

Challenges for Republican inroads with African Americans: Black voters' unwillingness to vote for a Republican candidate even while withholding their votes from the Democrat weakened the crossover effort for Stream. The problem appeared not to be Stream, but the weakness of the Republican brand in the black community. This weakness was confirmed in an astonishing way in the generally ignored contest for state auditor, in which incumbent Republican Tom Schweich ran with no Democrat opponent. Schweich, a candidate from the moderate “Danforth wing” of the Republican Party, won reelection easily, but he lost every black ward and township in the St. Louis County, the City of St. Louis and Kansas City to the Libertarian candidate, and in many cases even to the ultra conservative Constitution Party candidate as well.

One positive election development for Republicans, at least symbolically, was the election of several new black Republicans. These included Tim Scott of South Carolina to the U.S. Senate, Mia Love of Utah and Will Hurd of Texas to the U.S. House of Representatives, and locally, Shamed Dogan of Ballwin to the Missouri House of Representatives. While none of them represent black majority districts, Hurd unseated a Hispanic Democrat Congressman in a district that is two thirds Hispanic.

South county: St. Louis Public Radio's analysis had stated that “the results [in south county] offer some sobering news for Stenger, and reasons for optimism for Republicans.” Not really. South county is a swing area where Democrats do well in higher turnout presidential years (when Stenger's council seat is on the ballot) but where Republicans typically do well in low-turnout mid-term elections. Illustrative is the house district comprised by Mehlville, Green Park and part of Tesson Ferry Township, which elects a Democrat in presidential years and a Republican in mid-term elections. Stream's strength there was no surprise, but Stenger's ability to limit his losses there allowed him to win.

Zimmerman's big night: The Post-Dispatch quoted Mike Jones, a senior aide to Dooley, as stating that Zimmerman's totals were the “benchmark” that signified “where Stenger should have been,” but that observation belittled how well Zimmerman did. In addition to outpacing Stenger in every township, Zimmerman also ran ahead of Dooley's 2010 performance in every township, even the black townships. Zimmerman's 59% was comparable to what big Democrat winners get in St. Louis County in Democrat years. It was the same as President Obama got in his 2008 Democrat wave election and better than Obama did in his 2012 reelection, but Zimmerman accomplished it against the current in a Republican wave election.

Short coattails: The relative strength of Stenger and Stream in their home areas did not carry over to others on their party ballots. While Stenger, relatively speaking, did well in south county, the Democrat state representative representing Mehlville, Green Park and part of Tesson Ferry Township lost her seat to the Republican she unseated two years ago. Democrats got that seat back by picking up Stream's own house seat.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

2014 midterm predictions: national

With no U.S. Senate or any competitive U.S. House races on the Missouri ballot, the state is effectively sitting out this national midterm election.

U.S. Senate

In the U.S. Senate, Democrats (plus two Independents who caucus with them) currently control 55 of the 100 seats, and Vice-President Joe Biden's tie-breaking vote means Democrats have a 6-seat cushion in order to keep control of the upper chamber. But the seats that are up this year are those that were swept into Democrat hands in 2008, the anti-Bush Democratic wave accompanying President Obama’s first election. Seven of those seats are in states carried by Mitt Romney last election, and several more Democrat seats in “purple” states are also in serious play. Only three Republican seats are seriously contested.

According to Roll Call Politics (click SENATE'), two of the Democrat seats opened by retirements, West Virginia and Montana, are already deemed “Safe Republican.” Twelve additional Democrat-held seats and just three Republican-held seats are reasonably competitive (i.e., rated between “Toss-Up” and “Favored,” but not “Safe”). Four of the Democrat-held seats (the open seat in Michigan and incumbents in Minnesota, Oregon and Virginia) are in the least competitive category, “Democrat Favored,” but the other eight (in additional to the two already regarded as lost) are in greater jeopardy. The open seat in South Dakota is “Republican Favored” (i.e., as likely a Republican win as the aforesaid four “Democrat Favored” seats are for Democrats). Sen. Mark Pryor's seat in Arkansas “Leans Republican,” while the seats of Democrat incumbents in Alaska, Colorado and Louisiana “Tilt Republican.” That's a total of seven Democrat-held senate seats in which Republicans are favored to some degree. In addition, Sen. Kay Hagan's North Carolina seat and the open seat in Iowa are listed as “Toss Ups,” while Sen. Jean Shaheen's shrinking lead in New Hampshire is rated merely as “Tilts Democrat.”

The three vulnerable Republican seats could partially offset those potential losses, but prospects there aren't as good. Democrats aren't actually favored in any of them. Their best chances, according to Roll Call, are Kansas (where Democrat hopes hang on a left-leaning Independent) and the open seat in Georgia, which are both rated as “Toss Up.” Mitch McConnell's vulnerable Kentucky seat “Leans Republican.”

Largely confirming Roll Call's projections is Nate Silver's incredibly accurate 538 model (click "ELECTIONS"). Silver is more encouraging for Democrats in the four “Democrat Favored” seats, to which he assigns double-digit Democrat leads and 96-99% probability of winning. Silver currently gives Democrats an 83% chance of holding New Hampshire and a 68% chance in North Carolina, but eight Democrat-held seats (including Iowa, a Roll Call “Toss Up”) and two of the three competitive Republican seats (including Georgia, a Roll Call “Toss Up”) are all assigned a 65% or better chance of a Republican win. The Independent in Kansas is the Democrats' best hope of a takeback, but that's assigned a more modest 51% percent chance of success. Silver will modify these figures several more times before the election as new data are received.

The Oracle sees the Republican trend accelerating. When most folks go to bed on election night, the GOP will have held Kentucky and Kansas, taken the Democrat open seats in Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota and Iowa, and unseated Democrat senators in Arkansas, Colorado, North Carolina and New Hampshire. Many of the surviving Democrat senators will have won in closer elections than expected. No candidate will have won the majority vote necessary in Louisiana and Georgia. The following morning the seat in late reporting Alaska will also have fallen to Republicans, giving them 53 seats, pending the two runoffs. A win in the December Louisiana runoff will give them 54 seats when the new Congress convenes, and a win the Georgia runoff on January 6 will make the final count 55, a 10-seat pickup.

U.S. House of Representatives

The House will be a slightly different story. Republicans already won most of the districts they could possibly win when they picked up 63 seats in the 2010 wave, and new district lines locked most of them in. That success left House Republicans susceptible to the same numbers game that haunts Senate Democrats this year. Immediately after last year's government shutdown, Democrats seemed poised to retake the House. But those hopes were cut short when the botched Obamacare rollout shifted voters' attention to GOP-friendly issues, where it has remained ever since. While both parties will take seats from the other, Republicans will add to their majority.

The changes start with four congressmen (three Democrats and one Republican) who won fluke elections in 2012 and decided to bail out on their parties and retire a winner. According to Roll Call (click "HOUSE"), the three Democrat seats (NC-7, UT-4 and lately even NY-21) aren't even listed among competitive districts because they are “Safe,” although the Democrat is closing the gap in the Utah district. CA-31, where Obama got 57% last election, “leans Democratic.” The seats of three incumbents, one Republican and two Democrats, “tilt” to the other party. Beyond those seats, Roll Call currently labels 11 districts (9 Democrat and 2 Republican) as “Toss Ups” and eight other districts (four in each party) merely “tilting” in the current party's direction.

One example of how badly things are going this year for House Democrats is NY-11, the only Republican-held district in New York City, but which Obama won in 2012. Incumbent Rep. Michael Grimm (R) is under indictment, and video shows him threatening to throw an inquiring reporter off a balcony. This all happened after the filing deadline prevented Republicans from fielding a different candidate. Grimm was written off as dead meat. Today his district “tilts Republican!”

Another example: IL-12, the district containing East St. Louis and other heavily Democratic St. Louis suburbs, plus Cairo, IL, and lots of formerly Democratic rural turf in between, represented by Rep. Bill Enyart (D), now “tilts Republican” towards state rep. “Screamin'” Mike Bost. Some Democrats may even be secretly clearing Enyart out of the way for state rep Jerry Costello, Jr., namesake son of Enyart's predecessor, in more Democrat-friendly 2016. That kind of political intrigue happens all the time in Illinois.

While unpopularity of the Republican House will temper the party's gains, I see them winning 13 new seats and losing three, for a net GOP pickup of 10.

2014 midterm predictions: state and local

Dull is the new black. At least two times out of three. While glitz usually wins, this will be the year for the capable but charisma-challenged candidate.

Were it not for the political fallout following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, this would be the dullest election in my lifetime. For the first time perhaps since the founding of the Republican Party, a major political party (in this case the Democrats) has failed to file a candidate for a statewide office. Not even a vanity candidate! The State Auditor contest, in which capable but charisma-challenged first-term Republican incumbent Tom Schweich is opposed only by candidates of the Libertarian and Constitution parties, is also Missouri's only statewide contest. Furthermore, every Missouri congressman, 6 Republicans and 2 Democrats, are prohibitively safe. In St. Louis County, newly controversial prosecuting attorney Bob McCulloch is running unopposed. I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that Schweich, McCulloch and all of Missouri's congressmen get reelected!

The most interesting contest in the state is for St. Louis County Executive. Councilman Steve Stenger, a south county white who had McCulloch's backing, defeated Africian American incumbent Charlie Dooley in a racially charged Democratic primary. Four days later Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African American, was killed by a white Ferguson police officer, triggering unrest that continues to get national attention. McCulloch has refused to bring charges against the officer unless indicted by a grand jury. McCulloch has resisted African American demands that he recuse himself because of the bias that might logically result from McCulloch's police officer father having been killed in the line of duty by an African American suspect. Stenger has stood by McCulloch, prompting many African American Democratic leaders to endorse and actively work for Stenger's capable but charisma-challenged Republican opponent, state rep Rick Stream. The St. Louis American, the area's largest black weekly, has not endorsed in the race, but columnists Umar Lee and The Eye have endorsed Stream. Other blacks, wary of backing any Republican, have lined up behind the write-in candidacy of local African American Green Party leader Zaki Baruti.

Ordinarily these developments would destroy a Democratic candidacy, especially in an election shaping up as a Republican wave. In the Republican wave of 2010, the black vote provided Dooley's margin of victory. But I think this year's black Democrat defections are being overestimated. Congressman Lacy Clay has provided cover for party-loyal blacks by endorsing Stenger. I also remember years ago when Tom Zych defeated African American aldermanic president Tink Bradley in a racially charged Democratic primary, African American leader Jet Banks threw his support to Republican alderman Leonard Burst, but Banks could only deliver a third of the vote in his own ward. And as I wrote in my previous post, Stenger may benefit from white backlash over the Ferguson events. Four years ago, Dooley's Republican challenger Bill Corrigan carried South County big. This year, that's Stenger country. That's the area that has twice elected him to the county council, and south county lawns are a sea of dark blue with his lawn signs. Stenger will still carry the black vote, though by less than usual, and whites moving to Stenger will outnumber blacks moving to Stream. Advantage Stenger (unless that “charisma-challenged” wave carries Stream over the top).

A capable but charisma-challenged candidate with better odds of winning is Democratic County Assessor Jake Zimmerman. His cowboy-themed television commercial may be the best of the year. While he isn't as sure a bet as Schweich, Zimmerman still wins, even in a Republican wave.

Two open state senate seats are also drawing big bucks and lots of interest. The Democrat seat in the Republican-trending 22nd District in Jefferson County pits Democrat state rep Jeff Roorda against Republican state rep Paul Wieland. Democrat Roorda is using his board membership of a charity supporting the policeman that shot Brown and his high-profile police union position to tap into the white backlash following Ferguson, and he should win. Unless Wieland can tap into that “charisma-challenged” wave.

The Republican seat in the Democrat-trending 24th District in St. Louis County's central corridor pits Democrat state rep Jill Schupp against Republican attorney John “Jay” Ashcroft, the namesake son of Missouri's former governor, U.S. Senator and Missouri and U.S. Attorney general. Schupp's television ads resurrect the Democrats' 2012 “war on women” theme, a tactic which Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) is also using and receiving lots of criticism for doing. But while Ashcroft was actually the most moderate of the three Republican primary candidates for this seat, his surname may prove to be more hindrance than help among a moderate electorate that has soured on political dynasties – Carnahan, Clay, Bush, Blunt, and maybe even Clinton. Ashcroft's lovely wife, featured prominently in his ads, preclude him from joining the “charisma-challenged” wave, but the 2014 Republican wave should be enough to lift Ashcroft to victory.

The only notable contest in the city of St. Louis is recorder of deeds. Long-time recorder Sharon Carpenter resigned over a nepotism scandal but still won the Democratic primary for a new term. Her appointed replacement, former alderman Jennifer Florida, is running as an independent with the endorsement of Mayor Francis Slay. In 2011 Florida rebelled against the work-ethic demands of aldermanic president Jim Shrewsbury and backed Lewis Reed's successful challenge, but she switched her loyalty to Slay last year when Reed unsuccessfully challenged Slay. The city Democratic party isn't even objecting to Florida's campaign literature labeling her an “independent Democrat,” a label over which the party previously challenged African American Sen. Maida Coleman when she did so. The St. Louis American is endorsing Carpenter, noting that city government “would shut down instantly if every relative of an elected official walked off the job.” While all candidates (including Republican Erik Shelquist) are white, this may turn into a north-south battle, with the north side for Carpenter and the south side (except Carpenter's 23rd Ward) for Florida. Turnout is the key, and that gives the advantage to Florida.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Stenger seeks to ride Jay Nixon's Newtonian strategy to victory

The recent endorsement of State Rep. Rick Stream, the Republican nominee for St. Louis County Executive, by a group of 30 prominent African American Democratic officials could put a fork into the candidacy of the Democrat nominee, Councilman Steve Stenger. The group acted on the heels of Stenger's successful conquest of County Executive Charlie Dooley, the first African American to hold the post, in the Democratic Primary, and the actions and inactions of Democratic Party officials during the nationally televised crisis in Ferguson.

Since the exodus of sizable numbers of African Americans from the City of St. Louis to St. Louis County in the mid-1990s, blacks have reliably delivered St. Louis County to the Democrats. County whites lean slightly Republican, while the monolithicly Democratic black vote provides the margin of Democratic victory.

But a political version of Newton's Third Law of Motion -- that every action generates an equal and opposite reaction -- may save the day for Stenger and white Democrats. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon has ridden this phenomenon to victory in this increasingly red state his entire career, and Stenger's post-Ferguson actions suggest that his strategy is to do the same.

This political phenomenon is based on a resurrection of 1960s "white resistance" to the civil rights movement. Many whites have recoiled at the actions of protesters in Ferguson. Seemingly increasing black-on-white crime, sometimes explicitly in the name of the fallen Michael Brown, have increased their fear and resentment. As a result, the anti-Stenger actions by the black officials may actually increase Stenger's support among whites. Since white voters still far outnumber black voters in the county, this won't be just an "equal" reaction. Stenger may well gain more whites votes than lost black votes.

Nixon has long played the Newtonian strategy in Missouri politics. He has retained the support of many rural white voters who flipped from Democrat to Republican over the past 20 years, by posturing himself as a Democrat who stands up to blacks and resists their demands. The most notable instance was his opposition, as state attorney general, to state financial contributions to school desegregation. Black leaders objected vociferously, but their cries actually helped Nixon in rural Missouri. More recently, Nixon's actions and inactions in the Ferguson crisis have visibly angered blacks, while quietly reassuring many less-than-progressive whites. In the 2012 election, Nixon came close to breaking even in rural and exurban counties where Obama barely scratched out 35%. And Nixon did so while still riding Democratic strength in urban and suburban areas. Black voters supported him substantially as well as they did the rest of the Democratic ticket. Win/win for Nixon.

Stenger hopes to ride the same white backlash to victory next month.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Will Obama save the senate by going to war?

This morning's Gallup Poll (covering the first three days of September) pegged President Obama's job approval at 38%, his all-time low. That's pretty close to just his partisan base. His unpopularity is producing enough of a drag on Democratic incumbents and challengers in this year's midterm elections, that Nate Silver's Five-Thirty-Eight Senate Forecast today gives Republicans a 63.4% chance of overcoming the Democrats' 6-seat cushion and seizing the majority in the U.S. Senate.

On the other hand, the Presidency provides an unparallelled opportunity to create game-changing events, a so-called "October surprise." This often involves a total about-face by an unpopular president in an important policy matter. Lyndon Johnson's halting of Vietnam War bombing in 1968, literally the day before the election pitting his Vice-President, Hubert Humphrey, against Richard Nixon (and third-party candidate George Wallace), is generally regarded as the ultimate October surprise. The move failed to elect Humphrey, but it is regarded as saving a number of Congressional Democrats, including Missouri's open seat (won by Lt. Gov. Tom Eagleton, 51-49%, over Rep. Tom Curtis (R-St. Louis County)).

A "peace move" like Johnson's is not really possible for Obama, who took office with a Nobel Peace Prize already in hand. Obama's October surprise would have to be the opposite - asking Congress to declare war. To the extent that war is ever justifiable, the brutal actions of the new Islamic State could easily provide a justifiable pretext that most swing voters would support and appreciate. A recent poll claims that Americans support war against the Islamic State by a 63-16% margin, in contrast with opposition to military intervention in Syria, 20-62%, just a year earlier. With most Obama critics harping on his alleged timidity and indecision in the face of the ISIS/ISIL/IS threat, asking Congress for a declaration of war would indeed be the kind of 180-degree turn that comprise classic October surprises.

Moreover, Americans tend to rally behind their president in times of war, even if they think the President might have been at fault. Note the otherwise unexplainable spike in George W. Bush's popularity following the 9/11 attacks in 2001 (from 51% on September 10 to 86% on September 15), in spite of his befuddled initial reaction.

On the other hand, would playing the war card alienate the Democrats' anti-war base? I'm not aware of any polling data that specific, but one could surmise that the 16% opposing such action is composed primarily of people who instinctively oppose military action on principle, i.e., part of the Democrat base. No, these voters won't defect to Republicans, but with very few progressive independent or third-party alternatives, they might not vote at all.

And then there is the question whether the President would take action contrary to his base instincts in order to save fellow party members. Would improving the chances of congressional approval of the remaining parts of his agenda be enough to get him to take action he seemingly finds so distasteful?


Monday, August 04, 2014

2014 Missouri primary predictions

The racial politics that has infected Democratic primaries in the City of St. Louis for so many years has followed migrating voters to St. Louis County. White South County Councilman Steve Stenger is challenging incumbent black County Executive Charlie Dooley in a knock-down-drag-out slug fest. Predominantly black townships in north St. Louis County are standing behind the incumbent, while whites in south and west county are backing the challenger. The only thing missing is a steel cage. The racial divisions in this Democratic primary taint the Democrat narrative that Republicans are the racists.

While lawn signs are unreliable predictors of outcome, the total absence of Dooley signs in a sea of Stenger signs in south county is notable. Adding to the racial cleavage is the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, whose endorsement of Stenger follows its recent consistent trend of exclusively endorsing whites in Democratic primary contests against blacks. (The Post apparently hates Republicans more than blacks, as it regularly endorses the black candidates who defeat their endorsed primary opponents against Republicans in the general election.)

The elites in liberal white central county may decide the election, just as the elites in the central corridor wards decide the racial wars in the city. Republican crossovers will also be important, and the ones that do cross over will tend to be of the more moderate strain. As I noted before, the Dooley campaign seemingly went out of its way to offend those voters with a negative ad that compared Stenger to moderate GOP hero Mitt Romney. But central and west county crossovers will be limited by spirited Republican primaries to replace retiring Sen. John Lamping. State Rep. Dwight Scharnhorst and Councilman Greg Quinn.

I believe turnout will be the key, and that north county Democrats will turn out strongly enough to save Dooley. That result would also be most beneficial to Democrats in the general election, because black turnout in that election would suffer if Dooley loses, especially since there are no statewide contests at stake (Democrats failed to file a candidate for state auditor, the only statewide contest on the November ballot), and black incumbents from Rep. Lacy Clay on down are all running in safe Democratic districts. In contrast, a damaged Dooley would still likely win re-election in November, following the pattern of his win against well-financed Republican attorney Bill Corrigan against the grain of the Republican wave in 2010.

There is also a spirited contest for the Republican nomination. State Rep. Rick Stream has better qualifications than Green Park Alderman Tony Pousosa, but Pousosa has a dedicated grassroots following from Tea Partiers. Pousosa has lots of lawn signs in south county, while Stream's are hard to find. Even in Stream's base in Kirkwood, his signs are outnumbered by those for Deb Lavender, the Democrat (unopposed in the primary) seeking Stream's open seat in the Missouri house. Stream also suffers from the kiss-of-death endorsement of the Post. While Stream remains the favorite, I see that election as being close, and a Pousosa upset would not be much of a surprise.

The GOP primary in Lamping's 24th senate district demonstrates how conservative Republicans have grown in just the past couple years. The most moderate candidate is John R. “Jay” Ashcroft, namesake son of the conservative former governor and senator. Tea Partiers are attacking the younger Ashcroft for his alleged support for Medicaid expansion and a possible city-county merger. But conservatives are divided between two self-funding opponents. The conservative reputation of the Ashcroft brand should bring a primary win to that budding dynasty, but the general election in that swing district remains in doubt.

The racial wars in the City involve three contests. The hottest one (License Collector) doesn't actually have a white candidate, but features a black candidate (Jeffrey Boyd) who has solid support among most white Democratic officials and organizations, running against an appointed black incumbent (Mavis Thompson) who enjoys significant (but less unanimous) support from black Democratic officials and organizations. It is reminiscent of the 1997 mayoral contest, in which south side whites ousted black Mayor Freeman Bosley, Jr. by backing another African American, former police chief Clarence Harmon (“the white man's black man”). Boyd appears to be this year's Harmon. In a vanity battle of surrogates, Mayor Francis Slay is backing Boyd, while Gov. Jay Nixon stands behind his appointment of Thompson. Boyd has endorsements from all the pivotal central corridor wards and should oust Thompson.

The city contest that should be most interesting is one that Democrats are trying to hide. Veteran white Recorder of Deeds Sharon Carpenter resigned over a nepotism scandal, but continues to seek a new term anyway. Both of her primary opponents are black, are not very appealing and lack funds to mount a serious campaign. The late-breaking scandal may give Edward McFowland some traction, especially in black wards, but former alderman Jimmie Matthews will split off a significant part of the vote. I believe city Democratic voters will look beyond the primary to the independent candidacy of appointed incumbent Jennifer Florida in the general election and stick with Carpenter temporarily in the primary.

The final race war pits school board member Bill Haas against state Rep. Kimberly Gardner. While this contest between two attorneys should merit more attention, the racial composition of the district makes Gardner a 2-to-1 favorite.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

County Democrats alienate crossover voters

As St. Louis County transitions to a reliably Democrat county, some county Democrats are slow to realize what their counterparts in the City of St. Louis have known – and dealt with – for years. Missouri has an open primary system, in which any voter can take any party's ballot. In Democrat areas, Republican voters often vote Democrat ballots in the primary, because that is where the action is. Especially in south St. Louis, where most city Republicans reside, Democrats have learned to tailor their approaches to grab these votes in the usually decisive Democratic primary. Mayor Francis Slay has mastered the technique.

In spite of the county's new blue hue in the general election, enough Republican voters remain to make the number of potential crossovers in the primary very significant, much more so than in the city. That is especially true this year, as the only Republican primary contests in most of the county are low-key matches for the nominations for county executive and county auditor. The biggest draws for Republican primary voters will be in one state senate district in mid county and just one state representative district. The Republican primary for the right to lose to Democratic 1st District Congressman Lacy Clay is low profile and mostly where few Republicans reside. Neither Republican incumbents for state auditor nor Congress in the 2nd District face primary opposition. The high-profile Democrat tussle for county executive, where both candidates are already on the airwaves, will be tempting for Republican voters to join.

Neither Democrat County Executive Charlie Dooley nor his primary challenger, County Councilman Steve Stenger, seem to have figured that out. Both have played to their party bases in ways that alienate the Republican crossover voters.

Dooley is currently airing an ad that compares Stenger to 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. While that plays well with the Democrat base that comprises most of the primary vote, it leaves the crossover voters with a positive impression of Dooley's opponent. Even though Romney lost the county by 14 points in the general election, he out-polled every other Republican on the ballot, and was especially well-liked by the more moderate Republican voters that are most likely to cross over in the primary.

But Stenger burned his bridges to conservative Republican voters last year when running his wife's unsuccessful non-partisan campaign for a seat on the governing board of St. Louis Community College. The Stengers sent out flyers claiming that Allison Stenger would stand up to incumbent Joan McGivney “and her Tea Party friends.” That was a strange, false charge against McGivney, a long-time advocate for women's rights and public education who publicly favored marriage equality before it was cool. The flyer drew broad, unwanted attention when popular Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan lambasted it. Tea Partiers, including county voters outside the district, took notice when a blog post on the St.Louis Tea Party web site protested. Steve Stenger foolishly alienated these potentially favorable crossover voters.

Both politically and in the interests of effective governance, Dooley, Stenger and other Democrats who focus myopically on their base should take lessons from seasoned city officials like Mayor Slay.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Slay must overcome voter complacency to stop Reed

Most of the political smart money thinks St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay will cruise to renomination to an unprecedented fourth term next Tuesday. His administration has been free of major scandal, civic optimism is high, and he enjoys a huge fundraising advantage, which he is using to blanket the airwaves and fill mailboxes with large expensive glossy cards. He also enjoys important endorsements, including Rep. Lacy Clay, his father and legendary predecessor William L. Clay, Sr., civil rights icon Frankie Muse Freeman, Gov. Jay Nixon, Sen. Claire McCaskill, and the city's fading daily, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. But the Oracle's crystal ball remains cloudy. Slay must overcome two major challenges to make history.

The first major challenge is Aldermanic President Lewis Reed, whose quest to wrest City Hall away from the mayor has history on its side. Since the city began electing mayors to four-year terms, no one has ever been elected four times. The only other one who tried, Raymond R. Tucker (after whom the downtown stretch of 12th Street is named), was defeated by Alfonso J. Cervantes, who, like Reed, was then the Aldermanic President. That, in fact, was the office Slay himself held when he unseated former Mayor Clarence Harmon twelve years ago.

But Reed has more than just history in his corner. While racial consciousness has settled down to irrelevancy among the city's increasingly progressive white voters, it seems to be on the upswing among African-American voters. Last August, when it appeared that newly drawn districts and well-known white candidates might eviscerate city black representation in the Missouri legislature and the Post Dispatch endorsed exactly zero black candidates (see link to my post about that situation), black voters turned out in unusually high numbers for a summer primary and won all of the contests in question. President Barack Obama's tough but successful reelection campaign added to black racial consciousness and accelerated the momentum. The Reed campaign is well positioned to ride any continuing wave. The Clay endorsement looks good for Slay on paper, but it is paper thin. The worst kept secret in town is that Clays' endorsements are payback for Slay's active support of the younger Clay last election when he beat back a challenge from displaced white Democratic Rep. Russ Carnahan. Black voters recognize that Clay is doing what he has to, but few of them will follow his lead this time. Even the elder Clay's former chief of staff, Pearlie Evans, is backing Reed. While Slay has faced at least one significant black challenger in every mayoral election, he will get his lowest share of the black vote this time around.

Reed complements his solid black support with some significant pockets of support from whites. He made the right promises to get the support of the firefighters union, whose members are suing the city over pension issues. The teachers union backs Reed due to old resentment over Slay's past intervention in school board elections and support for charter schools. The St. Louis Police Officers Association is officially neutral, but many officers resent Slay's backing of local control. Of less importance is Reed's endorsement by former 24th Ward (Dogtown) Alderman Tom Bauer, one of only two aldermen to be recalled by voters midterm.

Reed used a similar pattern of solid black support and spotty inroads of the white vote to unseat Aldermanic President Jim Shrewsbury six years ago. However, consistent street talk at the time said that some of Reed's white support was from Slay backers who were upset with Shrewsbury's independence on the Board of Estimate and Apportionment. Those folks are back with Slay in this contest.



A second challenger, former 27th Ward Alderman Jimmie Matthews, is also running, but he is not Slay's second major challenge. If anything, a black candidate like Matthews could help Slay by splintering his black opposition. But that's not likely to happen here, even though Matthews is gamely attending candidate forums on both sides of town. As the other alderman (besides Bauer) to be recalled by voters of his own ward, the Matthews candidacy will have a miniscule impact.

Slay's second major challenge is the possible complacency of his own supporters. His south side base sees an overwhelming majority of Slay signs on lawns and nothing but Slay ads on television, and they don't think Reed has much of a chance. The mayor and his campaign do not suffer from such complacency and are working very hard. But motivating complacent supporters to get out and vote, especially in the bad weather that is predicted for Tuesday, will be a challenge. Reed's supporters are more motivated and more likely to vote.

These factors make this contest hard to call. Slay will win big in his base in southwestern St. Louis (Wards 12 (his current home), 16 and 23 (where he grew up and served as alderman), and he will win other south side wards by smaller margins with lower turnouts. Reed will win big on the north side, and the size of the turnout will be important. The election will be decided in the central corridor. Reed should do well in Ward 6 (his home ward), but not as well as on the north side. The election will be decided in Wards 8, 17 and especially the high-turnout 28th.

A big Slay win is possible, but a close election that could go either way is more likely.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Re-examining Missouri's urban/rural electoral split

Right after the 2004 election, I posted about the widening electoral gap between metropolitan voters and those in rural or exurban counties, in the context of the evangelical vote. Two presidential elections later, this urban/rural split has not only persisted, it has intensified.

I observed in that original post that, while Missouri’s rural areas have been more Republican in presidential elections than metropolitan areas for years, recent elections have markedly increased the spread. In the 11 presidential elections from 1952-1992, this spread averaged about seven percentage points. The difference was never greater than the 14-point spread in the 1960 religious war centered on the first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, and the spread virtually disappeared in the 1976 election involving born-again Christian Jimmy Carter, but seven points was a pretty typical spread.

Then, a realignment of voters began during the 1990s, in which rural evangelicals disgusted by the Clinton sex scandals switched from voting Democrat to Republican, followed by a counter-shift of
“old money” aristocrats and suburban “soccer moms” who were uncomfortable with the social conservatism of the new party members. The urban/rural spread crept up to 12 points in Clinton’s 1996 re-election, and exploded at the start of the 21st Century. In both 2000 and 2004, the metropolitan vote went more Democratic than before, and the exurban and rural vote went more Republican. In 2008, both areas trended Democratic, but metropolitan areas did it more. In 2012 both areas trended Republican, but rural areas did it more. The common thread was the increase in the spread, from 12 points in 1996 to 16 points in 2000, 21 in 2004, 23 in 2008 and up to 25 points in 2012.

County-by-county election returns demonstrate this realignment. Prior to the Clinton years, many Missouri rural counties (especially in eastern Missouri) had been Democratic since the Civil War. Democrats won both houses of the Missouri legislature every time from 1956 through 2000. As recently as 1988, when George H.W. Bush defeated Michael Dukakis in Missouri, 52-48, Dukakis won 33 rural counties. By 2004, when George W. Bush defeated John Kerry in Missouri, 53-46 (fairly similar to the elder Bush's 1988 margin), Kerry lost every rural county except one. A Democratic wave in 2008 helped Obama win six rural/exurban counties, but in 2012 he too could carry only one. And the lone Democrat holdout in 2012 was Boone, whose electorate is disproportionately influenced by a large liberal academic community.

Meanwhile, St. Louis County flipped the other way. After voting reliably Republican for many years, including the Bush-Dukakis contest in 1988, the county went for Clinton in 1992 and for every Democratic presidential nominee since then. The suburban part of the realignment mentioned above has been evident in “old money” areas of St. Louis County, like Clayton, Ladue and Webster Groves, but the Democrat takeover of the county was magnified by a major, non-realignment factor, the migration into the county of African American Democrats.

In Missouri, the rural/suburban trade-off has benefited Republicans. The state's congressional delegation was 6-3 Democratic when Clinton won in 1992. Today Republicans hold a 6-2 advantage. Similarly, Democrats maintained control of both houses of the Missouri legislature until 2002, and Republicans have controlled both houses ever since.

Friday, October 26, 2012

POTUS 2012: Another split decision

The tight 2012 presidential race is shaping up as the second split decision in the last three contests, but just the third time ever in which the winner of the popular vote is defeated in the Electoral College. But this year, neither of those divergent results will be all that close.

Recent national polls have trended towards Republican challenger Mitt Romney. I see that trend continuing through election day, with Romney winning the popular vote by as much as 7 million votes and five percentage points, 52% to 47%. Romney will also lead in electoral votes when the local news airs (11:00 eastern, 10:00 central), with leads in most of the uncalled swing states, but awaiting results from traditionally late reporting urban areas. But as the sun comes up the following morning, the urban vote in most of those states will push President Barack Obama over the top, giving him a comfortable majority of electoral votes, possibly as much as 313 to 222.

This historic result will be the largest popular vote deficit of any Electoral College winner, both by percentage points and raw vote. Until now, Rutherford B. Hayes' 3-point popular vote deficit to Democrat Samuel Tilden in 1876 was the largest such deficit by far. Both Benjamin Harrison (1888) and George W. Bush (2000) lost the popular vote by less than a percentage point. Bush's 543,000 vote deficit is the current raw vote record.

How can the popular and electoral votes diverge so much? Because of the President's conscious campaign strategy to devote his resources almost exclusively to nine "swing" states. He will win most of them, including those with the most votes (maybe not Florida, but he won't need Florida). Obama will also win 18 "blue" states that he is taking for granted, but by smaller margins than in 2008. And he will lose all 23 states that he has written off, including Indiana (which he won in 2008) and Missouri (which he lost by a fraction of a percent). In most of the 41 states where virtually no Obama campaign resources are devoted, Obama will significantly underperform his 2008 results.

Romney's surge in popular votes will come primarily from the 41 neglected states, but all but Indiana will nevertheless deliver their electoral votes the same way they did in 2008. Obama will do well enough in enough of the contested swing states to pull out a comfortable Electoral College win.

There shouldn't be any whining from Republicans about this loss. George W. Bush noted when accepting his own minority victory in 2000 that he had campaigned to win electoral votes, and that he would have campaigned differently if the popular vote had determined the outcome. That is exactly what President Obama has done in this campaign, and it is working.

With the veto pen securely in the President's hand for four more years, the Affordable Care Act is assured of implementation, regardless of who controls Congress.