Examining the ‘Post curse’ in Republican primaries
Most attribute this apparent effect on the general perception that the Post is a “Democrat” paper, a perception well-nurtured by the fact that the overwhelming majority of its endorsements in general elections go to Democrats over Republicans. In contests for offices with a Democrat incumbent seeking re-election, a Post endorsement of a Republican challenger virtually never happens. The fact that this year’s crop of Republican primary Post endorsees included a 2004 Green Party candidate, a candidate with an apparent Democrat past and a gay-rights activist may have also tainted the other endorsements in the minds of Republican voters. It is only natural that such a record would create distrust among Republicans deciding whom to nominate in their own primary.
In 2004, the Post’s endorsement of Councilman Kurt Odenwald in the contest for the Republican nomination for St. Louis County Executive is blamed by some as being decisive in Odenwald’s wafer-thin loss to former County Executive Gene McNary. It may have also played a role in Jay Kantzler’s 2002 upset loss to convicted felon Al Hanson in the GOP primary for State Auditor.
So, what about this year? Two thirds (8 out of 12) of the Republicans endorsed by the Post lost. In contrast, 71% of the Democrats the paper endorsed won their primaries.
Was the Post endorsement the “kiss of death” for Republicans, or was it merely coincidental?
The most prominent “casualty” was State Rep. Jack Jackson, who lost the GOP nod for State Auditor by less than a percentage point in spite of putting a half million dollars of his own cash into the campaign. However, Jackson carried most of the counties in the Post distribution area, including St. Louis County, the city, and neighboring St. Charles, Jefferson and Franklin Counties. On the other hand, in a race that close, virtually every factor can be decisive. One can argue Jackson would have won enough additional votes here to win if he hadn’t had the endorsement.
The Post endorsed African American candidates for contested nominations for St. Louis area congressional seats, and both lost decisively. State Rep. Sherman Parker’s loss to 2nd District incumbent Rep. Todd Akin was widely expected, although the 8-to-1 margin was a bit sobering. The big surprise for non-insiders was former nominee Leslie Farr’s lopsided loss in the 1st District to newcomer Mark Byrne. Farr had recently demonstrated relative success in raising money, and had been establishing credibility among the media. The loss was apparently not racially based, as Farr lost in black city wards as well as in white suburbs. Could the endorsement of the liberal Post have caused voters to think Farr was too moderate?
In the only contested area GOP primary for the state senate, Post endorsee Councilman Joe Brazil was a 2-to-1 loser to new incumbent Sen. Scott Rupp. But Rupp is an incumbent, fresh off his victory to win the seat in a special election. Brazil also had to answer to a history of alcohol-related offenses and, even worse for Republicans, a political history in Florissant where he was apparently regarded as a Democrat.
Perhaps the most glaring defeat for a Post endorsee occurred in St. Charles County’s 13th state rep district, where Stephanie Bell finished dead last in a 5-way contest with less than 6% of the vote. She not only lost 8-to-1 to Dr. Bob Onder (The Oracle’s allergist), she even lost by 2-to-1 to the candidate who finished next-to-last.
In fact, the only Post endorsee to win a Republican primary for state rep was an incumbent. In addition to Bell, Post endorsees who lost were Charles Cuba in central St. Louis County’s 87th district, former rep. Steve Banton in the Wildwood-based 89th and Charles Stadtlander in Kirkwood’s 94th. The lopsided losses of Cuba, the 2004 candidate of the Green Party facing a Republican incumbent, and Stadtlander, a gay-rights advocate, were not surprising. However, the “Post curse” might be blamed in Banton’s case. As a seasoned house veteran, having served two prior districts before term limits, he offered experience rarely available in a post-term-limits universe (especially for someone under 60). He also enjoyed superior name recognition and was every bit as conservative as the district.
Sen. Jim Talent won re-nomination easily in spite of the Post endorsement, but high-profile, scandal-free, non-controversial incumbents of both parties generally sail to renomination without regard to newspaper endorsements.
State Rep. Charles Portwood is a different story. Alcohol-related driving offenses two years ago made Portwood damaged goods. His recent actions distancing himself from unpopular Gov. Matt Blunt may not necessarily have played that well with Republican primary voters. Some may have even smelled a fish in the Post endorsement, suspecting that the pro-Democrat paper was merely trying to boost the weaker GOP candidate in order to help the Democratic nominee in November. (That conspiracy theory will pick up momentum if the Post doesn’t endorse Portwood then.) Portwood ended up winning by just 132 votes. Whether the Post nod restored his credibility and put him over the top or made the contest as close as it was is anybody’s guess.
Republican endorsees won nomination in county council races in St. Charles County and central/west St. Louis County. Joe Cronin won narrowly in St. Charles County, 53-47%, but I don’t have any background to analyze.
In the St. Louis County contest, political newcomer Colleen Wasinger, whom the Post endorsed, handily defeated Fenton Mayor Dennis Hancock. This was exactly the kind of down-ballot contest where the Post endorsement could have wreaked havoc, but didn’t. The Post (mistakenly in my judgment) characterized Wasinger as a moderate, which the Post regards as complimentary but most West County Republican primary voters do not. Hancock enjoyed superior name recognition from his two terms as Fenton mayor and an unsuccessful run for County Executive, as well as some “false return” name recognition in the form of voter confusion with former Congressman Mel Hancock (author of the Hancock Amendment) and former State Rep. John Hancock (who was actually a paid consultant for Wasinger). Both candidates sported endorsements from GOP township organizations and prominent politicians. Wasinger enjoyed a 2-to-1 fundraising advantage over Hancock, but she still raised less than $100,000, which trailed both council candidates in the neighboring 5th District and four of the five contenders in the similarly sized 4th senate district in the city. Wasinger’s campaign overcame the obstacles, perhaps including the Post endorsement, and prevailed by 61-39%.