Early handicapping in the 4th District
Filing doesn’t open for another three months, but four major candidates have formally announced: former congressional candidate Jeff Smith, State Rep. Amber Boykins, State Rep. Yaphett El-Amin, and former Election Board Chair (and former State Rep.) Derio Gambaro. I shared some of my thoughts about this contest last week in the Post Dispatch’s Political Fix blog, so I ought to refine them and post them here.
The district’s most important demographic is race. Smith and Gambaro are white, and Boykins and El-Amin are African Americans. Although the recent migration of many less race-conscious urban professionals into south St. Louis has reduced the significance of racial politics, most of those voters live to the east of this district, leaving the racial politics of the past generation alive and well in the 4th district. The district’s population was 53.5% black according to the 2000 census, but election data suggest that its electorate is about 60% white.
Mathematically, this means that winning half the white vote wins 30% of the entire district vote. A candidate with no white votes would need 75% of the black vote to match that 30%. A candidate who wins more than two thirds of the white vote can win the district without any black votes. My early analysis will therefore address (1) competition among the district’s white voters and (2) the candidates’ relative ability to attract voters of the other race.
My starting point for analyzing the district’s white vote is the 2004 Democratic congressional primary in which Smith was a candidate. The portion of the congressional district that is in this senate district comprises most of the district’s white voters (except for the corridor between Delmar and Lindell). While Smith finished second to Russ Carnahan in the congressional district, he won the precincts in the 4th district. Here are those results:
Jeff Smith 28.10%
Mariano Favazza 22.67
Russ Carnahan 19.28
Joan Barry 16.22
Mark Smith 7.73
Steve Stoll 3.71
Jo Ann Karll 1.18
3 others combined 1.13
There are hundreds of cross-currents that erode the following speculation, but I believe Smith should keep his own voters and is also most likely to appeal to most of Carnahan’s and Karll’s. Gambaro will probably appeal to Favazza’s and Stoll’s supporters and many of Barry’s (although Joan herself might persuade some to vote for Jeff). I’d say Smith would outpoll Gambaro in this part of the district by 8-10 percentage points, and run even stronger among white voters in the Lindell-Delmar corridor. That would give Smith about 32% of the district’s vote before factoring in cross-race voters. A plurality is all it takes to win.
Boykins appears to have the advantage in the battle for the north side. Her early fundraising has been impressive, though behind Smith. I initially thought El-Amin was the stronger black candidate, based on the strong “ground game” she demonstrated when winning her state rep seat in 2002. But she was late getting started, and her campaign reports from her state rep campaign demonstrate a lack of grasp over that important aspect of the campaign. She is also engaged in a bitter feud in her own ward, where she needs to be strong to be competitive in this contest. I expect black support to coalesce around the African American frontrunner when one emerges, and that currently looks like Boykins.
How are the candidates likely to fare among voters not of their race? At this point I don’t see either Gambaro or El-Amin winning significant votes among the opposite race, but both Smith and Boykins have potential to do so.
Smith worked hard to establish rapport with the black community in 2004 even though there were very few African American voters in the congressional district. He promises to take a personal door-to-door campaign to the north side, and Smith generally follows through on promises like that.
On the other hand, Boykins benefits from the political contacts of her father, Luther Boykins. Dad’s contacts have produced the support of Kim Tucci and former State Rep. Tony Ribaudo, and Tucci recently announced the endorsement of Sheriff (and 12th Ward Committeeman) Jim Murphy. I believe that Tucci’s help will be more financial than directly influential with voters, but his financial clout will help Boykins afford media and direct mail. The Murphy endorsement is less meaningful, because Murphy is probably the city’s least respected citywide official, and his ward includes only one small precinct in the district. Gender politics generally gives women candidates in a Democratic primary an extra 2% across racial lines, but Boykins must split that advantage with El-Amin.
Overall, it looks to me like Smith and Boykins will draw comparably from voters of the other race, with Smith’s work ethic and personal one-on-one appeal tipping the scales in his favor. He won in the 4th District in 2004 without a single ward endorsement.
Eight months out with the field not yet set, the advantage is to Smith, narrowly over Boykins, with Gambaro and El-Amin trailing. But things can change.