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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Location: Saint Louis, Missouri, United States

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:

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 freshman Missouri Sen. Tom Eagleton (by 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.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Game on: Battle of the Perfect 10s

Former Gov. Mitt Romney's selection of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) to be his running mate creates a general election contest in which both sides have history of their sides.

One can argue till the cows come home (did I write that?) about the effect on the election of the tickets' contrasting views on the economy, the Affordable Care Act, Ryan's controversial budget proposal, Bain Capital, same-sex marriage, the importance of government assistance to small business success, or even the traded cheap shots over transporting a dog on the car roof vs. actually eating dog meat as a child. Like the illogical but persistent recurrence of hemline lengths' and Super Bowl winners' accuracy in predicting stock market behavior, presidential elections over the past half century have turned more on the number of letters in the names of the respective tickets' nominees. (I wrote about this phenomenon four years ago after then-Sen. Obama picked then-Sen. Biden as his running mate.)

Since 1968, a presidential ticket whose surnames added up to exactly ten letters has won eight times out of nine:
1968 and 1972: Nixon Agnew
1980 and 1984: Reagan Bush
1988: Bush Quayle
2000 and 2004: Bush Cheney
2008: Obama Biden
Now, for the first time during this period, two ten-letter tickets go head-to-head! As I also wrote back in 2008, then Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) (six letters) could have called Obama's ploy by matching him with a four-letter pick of his own (such as retiring MO Sen. Kit Bond, then-Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC), or then-Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice). But McCain picked then -Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK), who was, among other things, one letter too long.

Romney didn't repeat McCain's mistake (in spite of successive gaffes during the veep announcement ceremony). The cool, calculating Romney picked a four-letter veep to set up the showdown.

Barring an unlikely third-party surprise, we are now assured that a ten-letter ticket will be victorious again for the ninth time since 1968. But which side does history favor in this head-to-head clash? The only historical signal is ambiguous. The election in which a 10-letter ticket lost was in 1992 (Bush Quayle). On one hand, that contest's 10-letter losers were Republicans. On the other hand, they were also the sitting incumbents, presiding over a bad economy.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Primary could dilute African American clout in St Louis

Separate columns in the current edition of the St. Louis American, the city's largest African American weekly, evidence growing angst among African American politicos about the possible outcome of the 2012 Missouri Democratic primary.Veteran columnist Jamala Rogers complained in general terms about the "continued, blatant disrespect of black people by the leading white Dem[ocrat]s." Rising star Alderman Antonio French was more specific, warning that the primary could eliminate all African Americans from the city's delegations in Congress, the state senate and the state house. I have concluded that French is exaggerating, but only by a little. Let's look at the contests.

First Congressional District. This classic member vs. member contest pits Rep. Lacy Clay against Rep. Russ Carnahan, who currently represents the 3rd District that was relocated in redistricting due to Missouri's loss of a congressional seat in reapportionment. Demographically the district is barely a black plurality (and not a majority). The St. Louis Post Dispatch endorsed Carnahan, but hardly anyone reads the Post any more. Clay will win over 90% of the black vote and will probably come close to breaking even with Carnahan among whites, many of whom are unimpressed by Carnahan. Clay will win overall by about 2-to-1. So African Americans will retain black representation in the most visible contest.

But French's concerns about the legislative contests may be well-founded.

State Senate: The city's shrinking population now leaves it with only one complete senate district and a bare majority in another that it shares with St. Louis County. The shared district is represented by Sen. Joe Kaveney, a white Democrat, who has two years remaining on his term. The other district, up this year, is represented by scandal-plagued Sen. Robin Wright-Jones, who is opposed for renomination by state Reps. Jamilah Nasheed (who, like Wright-Jones, is black) and Jeanette Mott Oxford (who is white), in a district with just a small black majority. Oxford"s progressive record has earned her strong support from the progressive community, including many blacks. As the first openly gay woman state senator, she enjoys especially strong loyalty among the city's gay population, much of which resides in this district. African Americans are divided between Wright-Jones and Nasheed. If those two split the vote fairly evenly, Oxford will win, making the city's senate delegation entirely white for the first time since 1960. Oxford has represented a racially diverse house district well, and will do the same if elected to the senate, but black pride, as evidenced by French's column, will be hurt if she wins. The Oracle believes Wright-Jones is toast. While I don't subscribe to identity politics, I believe French is correct in suggesting voters who believe that it is important to preserve black representation for the city in the senate need to unite behind Nasheed.

State House: Six of the city's current ten House seats situated entirely in the city are held by African Americans. Population loss and slicing and dicing by the bipartisan redistricting commission reduce the number of all-city seats to just eight. (Some portions of the city are tacked on to four other districts that are centered in neighboring parts of St. Louis County.) The commission drew five of the all-city districts with black majorities, but that majority in three of them is less than 65%. French's warning that blacks might not win any of them is exaggeration, but blacks could be left holding just the two with black super-majorities. African American Rep. Chris Carter is unopposed in the primary, and all three contenders for the open seat in District 77 are black. But each of the other districts has a serious white contender. In two of them, two serious black contenders could split the vote and create an opening for the white.

Rep. Penny Hubbard is the incumbent in the 78th District, which is 62.3% black. The St. Louis Business Journal, though, reported that the district's voting age population is only 52.8% black. The polarizing Hubbard political family always draws African American opposition, and Samuel J. Cummings, III is doing so now. But also running is Ruth Ehresman, a white former staffer for the progressive Missouri Budget Project who appears to be a very serious challenger. The district is hard to peg geographically, because the district's portion of the city's predominantly black north side includes a substantial and growing white minority in Old North St. Louis, while its portion of the predominantly white south side includes most of the south side's black migration in the southern wing of the 6th Ward.

The 79th District is an open seat with a one-on-one contest between Michael Butler, a black former legislative assistant to Wright-Jones, and Martin Casas, a white businessman. While Casas does not have the advantage of a split opposition, he nevertheless appears to be garnering significant support among blacks, including French himself.. Casas would appeal to the Washington Avenue loft district, if he can persuade those yuppies to vote.

The most interesting contest is probably the 84th District, where incumbent Karla May squares off against the rep she ousted last election, Hope Whitehead. The seat was represented by Clay before his election to the state senate. The white candidate in the 84th District is the very well known Mike Owens, former Channel 5 investigative reporter turned lawyer and husband of 28th Ward Alderman Lyda Krewson. Owens' and Krewson's ward is the highest turnout ward in the district, and its organization is one of the city's most effective in delivering votes in the primary.

For its part, the American has endorsed Clay, but no candidates in these other contests.
UPDATE: In addition to Carnahan, the St. Louis Post Dispatch also endorsed Oxford for the state senate. The Post no longer bothers with state rep races. All-told the Post endorsed zero African American candidates for the primary.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, who may face a challenge from African American Board President Lewis Reed in the spring, endorsed African American candidates Clay, Nasheed, Hubbard and May, and joined French in backing Casas.

The concern described by Rogers and French is that African Americans could become very dispirited by white wins in historically black districts. While President Obama is likely to motivate African Americans to go to the polls, they might just vote for Obama and leave the rest of the ballot unaddressed. The appearance on the ballot of Gov. Jay Nixon (whom the American declined to endorse over token primary opposition), who has historically based his political success on appealing to rural white voters by using African American interests as a foil, could reinforce black inclinations to skip down-ballot races.

Former Rep. Bill Clay, the father of Lacy Clay, warned over a month ago that the Clay-Carnahan primary fight could have a "chilling effect" on turnout in November. Rogers echoed that not-so-veiled threat: "It is time for a show-down in the Show Me State." To supporters of white candidates who are running for office in good faith, that sounds a lot like extortion.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Primary reconfirms Obama's rural MO weakness

As I scoured the numbers from last week's "meaningless" Missouri presidential primary, I was startled to find that the real news was not in the hyped Republican contest but in the (technically meaningful) Democratic contest.

Overall, President Obama received a slightly underwhelming 88.3% of the vote in the Democratic primary against three little known vanity candidates and an option to send uncommitted delegates to the convention. Uncommitted, at 6.3%, was the most popular Democratic alternative to Obama. In contrast, incumbent President George W. Bush received 95.1% of his party's vote in an analogous Missouri primary in 2004. No Democrat wants to underperform Dubya!

However, it's the geography behind the numbers that should provide greater concern for the President and his strategists.

Obama was predictably strong in urban areas (the cities of St. Louis and Kansas City plus St. Louis County) where African American voters (Obama's strongest demographic) dominate the vote in the Democratic primary, plus Boone County, where faculty and some students at the state's largest college campus predominate. Obama polled a near-unanimous 96% in St. Louis and Kansas City, 93.3% in St. Louis County, and 92.8% in Boone County.

Unlike St.Louis County, Democrats in Kansas City's suburbs showed less love for Obama, with Jackson County (excluding Kansas City itself), Clay County to the north and Cass County to the south giving the President a little less than his share of the vote in the state as a whole.

But the President's numbers were more concerning in rest of the state. In rural and exurban areas (everything but St. Louis City and County, Kansas City, the rest of Jackson County and Boone County), 17.2% of Democratic Primary voters voted against their party's president. The non-Obama Democratic vote topped 20% in nearly half the rural counties, and over 30% in seven of them. In Reynolds County in the southern Missouri lead belt, it came within one vote of 40%. Even in relatively populous Buchanan County (St. Joseph and environs), the non-Obama Democratic vote was 24.3%.

Democrats have performed poorly outstate in recent November general elections, but the above numbers are from a Democratic Primary! Those numbers aren't significantly tainted by crossover votes, because nearly all of the Republican and independent voters who drive the general election numbers were most likely drawn to the highly contested and well publicized Republican contest, if they voted at all. The voting pool here would have been almost entirely true Democrats, and over a sixth of them in the rural and exurban half of the state said no to their President.

Not everyone who votes against his party's President in a primary votes for the other party's candidate in the following general election. But some (including many who chose not to vote at all in the primary) may exercise their frustration by not voting at all in November. That could adversely affect Sen. Claire McCaskill (who shares much of the President's record) and the rest of the Democratic ticket.

Republican Primary

The contest that I expected to analyze turned out to be pretty homogeneous. There was no significant urban/rural split, as former Sen. Rick Santorum carried every county, including the separately tabulated cities of St. Louis and Kansas City, defeating establishment-endorsed runner-up Mitt Romney by 30 points statewide. Santorum's success here was aided by the absence of conservative rival Newt Gingrich on the ballot, but Santorum also won caucuses the same day in two other states where Gingrich did compete.

Here are what few Republican patterns I could discern:

  • Anti-war libertarian Ron Paul (12.2% statewide) ran strongest in the big cities, winning 20.3% in the City of St. Louis (compared to just 10.6% in St. Louis County) and 15.2% in Kansas City, although his best county was Mercer in northern Missouri, where Paul's 27.9% was good for second place over Romney. Paul had been expected to overperform in academic centers, but only Boone County (University of Missouri) met expectations with 18.2%. Paul ran marginally ahead of his statewide share in Phelps (Missouri S&T), Adair (Truman State) and Nodaway (Northwest Missouri State) Counties, but trailed in Johnson County (University of Central Missouri). Other campuses (e.g. Missouri State) are situated in counties in which their share of the vote is insignificant. Paul's relative strength appeared to come at Santorum's expense rather than Romney's.
  • Romney performed relatively well (30%+) in the Kansas City and St. Joseph areas in western Missouri. Santorum's victory margin over Romney in Buchanan County was single digits. Romney also flirted with 30% (29.8) in St. Louis County, where he enjoyed fundraising success.
  • Santorum's share (55.2% statewide) was quite consistent across the state. The biggest departure from the norm was Ralls County, south of Hannibal, which delivered 75.4% for Santorum. He topped 60% in some exurban counties (Franklin west of St. Louis, and Cass and Lafayette south and east of Kansas City), but not in others. He marginally underperformed his statewide share in urban areas, primarily due to Paul's relative strength there.