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.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Browning's filing could affect contest for board prez

A contested Republican primary on the southern edge of the city could have a significant impact on the Democratic Primary for President of the Board of Alderman.

One of today's surprises on the first day of filing for municipal offices in the City of St Louis was the filing of disabled retired police officer Matt Browning for alderman in the 12th Ward (south of Carondelet Park). Shortly thereafter, incumbent Alderman Fred Heitert also filed.

Heitert has rarely faced opposition during his 28-year tenure. But what makes this really interesting in the overwhelmingly Democratic city is that both incumbent Heitert and challenger Browning are Republicans. While the 12th is the second most Republican ward in the city (behind the 16th), Republican Sen. Jim Talent, who got the most votes of any Republican running in the ward this year, got less than 37% of the vote.

While the Heitert-Browning contest should be interesting if neither withdraws, it may have an even bigger impact on the Democratic primary for president of the Board. That contest is shaping up as a classic black vs. white barnburner between white incumbent Jim Shrewsbury and an African American challenger, 6th Ward Alderman Lewis Reed. In contests like that, most of the 20% or so of the city's Republican voters usually cross over and vote in the Democratic primary, usually for whichever Democrat is most conservative.

While not quite the most Republican ward, the 12th is nevertheless regarded as the city's most conservative. In the 2005 contest for Mayor, Republican crossovers swelled the ward's totals in the Democratic Primary and gave white conservative Mayor Francis Slay a big margin over black Alderman Irene Smith. Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce enjoyed similar crossover support in her 2004 primary win over Jerald Christmas, and this year Shrewsbury would be expected to enjoy similar support against Reed (even though Shrewsbury isn't particularly conservative on matters not involving abortion - similar to Sen. Pat Dougherty). Shrewsbury won a big margin in the 12th when he first won the post by defeating 28th Ward Alderman Lyda Krewson. But with an interesting Republican Primary between Heitert and Browning, many 12th Ward Republicans will "stay home" and participate in their own party's business. Nearly every erstwhile Republican crossover who votes in her/his own primary instead is probably a lost Shrewsbury vote in the aldermanic presidency contest.

With the 12th being an important part of the high-turnout southwest city bloc that powers conservative Democrats to victory, one almost smells a rat, as though the impact on the aldermanic presidency contest were the prime motive for creating an unusual GOP primary contest as a diversion. Such would be consistent with the style of Reed consultant Richard Callow. But it's hard to imagine that scenario playing out with these players. Though conservative for my personal tastes, I regard both Heitert and Browning as class acts. While there is no love lost between the St Louis Police Officers Association and Shrewsbury, I can't really see the SLPOA going out of its way to help Reed. (The conspiracy theory would sprout into full bloom if the SLPOA were to endorse Reed.) Heitert also lacks any apparent motive to boost Reed over Shrewsbury. In fact, if the Shrewsbury-Reed contest appears close, I could even see Heitert opting to retire and eliminate the diversionary primary.

Let's see how filing proceeds, and see whether political unknowns file to create contested Republican primaries in other wards where Shrewsbury is expected to run strong (e.g., the 10th, 14th, 24th, or even Shrewsbury's own 16th).

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Women, blacks, atheists powered Claire's win

Claire McCaskill can thank women, African Americans and atheists for her victory in Missouri’s U.S. Senate race this year. These were the groups where there were significant shifts in party preference, relative turnout, or both, when compared to the 2004 presidential election, according to the Edison/Mitofsky Missouri exit polls for both years. The polls are published by CNN.

McCaskill won by getting bigger margins among voters who traditionally favor Democrats, and by those groups comprising a bigger share of electorate.

Perhaps the most decisive change in McCaskill’s favor was the return of the gender gap. Among male voters, Talent defeated McCaskill by the same five-point margin as Bush defeated Kerry. But it was a different story among women. McCaskill won 51% of women’s votes, six points better than Kerry, while Talent lagged nine points behind Bush. (In 2004, Edison/Mitofsky reported that Bush won among both men and women, and actually did better among women.)

McCaskill’s advantage among women was magnified by a surge in relative turnout. Women comprised 55% of the electorate this year, up two points over 2004. So her advantage was magnified by their greater weight.

The party vote of African Americans remained fairly constant from 2004 to 2006, but turnout is what made the difference. Blacks had given Kerry a 90%-10% advantage in 2004. This year, in spite of McCaskill’s neglect of black voters and Talent’s visible outreach towards them, McCaskill actually improved slightly upon Kerry, winning 91%-8%. But what made the black vote noteworthy was relative turnout, with African Americans comprising 13% of the electorate this year, compared to only 8% in 2004.

The opposite was true among voters lacking any religious affiliation, but the result still favored McCaskill. This group comprised 9% of the electorate both years. But McCaskill picked up eight points among atheists, routing Talent by 60 points, 78%-18%, significantly better than Kerry’s 72%-26% margin among that group.

At the other end of the religious spectrum, white “born again” Christians favored Talent over McCaskill, 74%-24%, virtually identical to advantage they had given Bush over Kerry. But that advantage was a little less meaningful this year, as those voters comprised only 31% of the electorate, compared to 35% in Bush’s victory in 2004.

All of the 2006 changes weren’t in Claire’s favor. Roman Catholics, who had given Kerry a one-point advantage in Missouri in 2004, went for Talent, 51%-46%. This is probably attributable to the high-profile opposition of both Talent and Roman Catholic leaders to the Missouri stem cell research ballot initiative. Catholic voters opposed that constitutional amendment by a 10-point margin, less than expected but by more than the margin they gave Talent, but Talent still benefitted among the 21% of the electorate in that bloc.

Perhaps the most surprising counter trend that helped keep the election close was the vote among senior citizens 65 and over. After having backed Kerry, 52%-48%, enough of them switched to give Talent a 50-47% advantage. The switch was more meaningful because of a surge in the bloc’s relative turnout, moving from just 11% of the electorate in 2004 up to 17% this year.