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, February 23, 2009

Slay, by a yawn

Here's how things look to me in the St. Louis primary election to be held a week from today:

Democratic Primary

All the so-called "smart money" is on St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay to win renomination and reelection easily. I think the election will be closer than most people expect, but that Slay will still win.

Slay enters the campaign with enormous advantages:

  • Financing. The last report showed that Slay had raised nearly $3 million, with $1,180,771 still on hand as of February 19. He has outraised his closest challenger by an incredible ratio of 88-to-1. Slay is using his cash to saturate the media with well-produced positive ads that run unchallenged on the airwaves.
  • Public political support. The Slay campaign claims the formal endorsement of three quarters of the city's ward organizations (including some African American wards) and much of organized labor, including the powerful Service Employees International Union (SEIU) that could ordinarily be expected to be first in line to challenge the establishment.
  • Tarnished opponents. Former Alderman Irene Smith has already lost to Slay once, in 2005, and it wasn't close. She is best known for her principled filibuster against a 2001 redistricting bill in which she seemingly urinated into a wastebasket in the aldermanic chambers to avoid losing the floor, an action that brought negative national attention to both herself and the city. Last-day filer Denise Watson-Wesley Coleman, rightly or wrongly, is regarded by many as a mere stalking horse and a puppet for hidden interests.
  • Divided opposition. The once (and to some extent still) vociferous opposition to the mayor, especially in the African American community, has two African American challengers from which to choose, while Slay is the only candidate appealing to his constituents: whites, pro-lifers and the business establishment. With only a candidate running in just one ward, even Republicans (to whom he appeals) are totally free to cross over and vote for him.
But Slay's successes have also engendered the biggest obstacle to his re-election: complacency. While his campaign is taking nothing for granted, most of his rank-and-file supporters are totally confident that he will win. The grassroots campaign of his opponents will not reach his supporters, contributing to their overconfidence. Still exhausted from turning out to vote in large numbers last November, many voters who favor Slay won't see much point in taking the trouble to go out and vote for him.

Slay's strongest challenger is Smith, around whom most African American activists have united. She is the champion of those who believe Slay is out to eradicate the interests of black people. She has a solid base of support in the black community, many of whom regard her urination incident positively as a demonstration of the lengths she will go to stand up for them. Coleman's candidacy will not seriously erode Smith's support there.

Slay's demotion of Fire Chief Sherman George was a symbolic deal killer for many African American voters who had voted for Slay over Smith four years ago. Aldermanic President Lewis Reed's electoral success with black voters over incumbent Jim Shrewsbury (who, unlike Slay, had actively tried to cultivate black support by compiling a record that was quite favorable on black issues, other than his fateful ruling that led to Smith's urination incident) two years ago presages a much improved performance by Smith with black voters this time around. If Slay runs better on the north side next week than Shrewsbury did two years ago, it will send a message that how one addresses black issues doesn't matter.

Just as important is the intensity of Smith's support. Her supporters hate Slay, perhaps as much as they hated George W. Bush. When it comes to voting behavior, hatred is a much better motivator than love. The intensity gap may actually produce larger black turnout than white turnout, something that hardly ever happens.

In contrast, most white voters (other than the teachers union) are happy enough with Slay, and some who aren't neverthess regard the alternatives as worse. Unlike blacks, many whites were offended by Smith's urination incident, and many of the whites who oppose Slay will find Coleman's candidacy more appealing. Ironically, Coleman's candidacy will harm Smith's more with whites than with fellow black voters.

But, as explained above, white turnout will be low. That will make things a lot closer than most expect.

I expect Slay to win, but with less than a majority:
Slay 49%
Smith 39%
Wesley-Coleman 12%

Green Primary

The other game in town is not the Republican Primary (no Republican filed for either citywide office and only one Republican filed for alderman in any ward), but a first-ever contested primary in the Green Party. (A Libertarian candidate also filed for mayor, but he is unopposed in the primary.) Long-time activist (and thorn in the side (or other anatomical location) of the Gateway Green Alliance) Don DeVivo is pitted against organizational recruit Rev. Elston McCowan.

A Green primary is uncharted waters. How many people will sacrifice the chance to vote in the Democratic primary to vote in the Green primary? Last August, only 18 voters eschewed the chance to vote in either the Democratic primary (in which the main events were the Koster-O'Donnell-Harris race for Attorney General and the Zweifel-Simckes-Powell contest for State Treasurer and assorted local party committee races) or the Republican primary featuring the Hulshof-Steelman tiff, to vote in an uncontested Green Party primary. There were 27 Green primary voters in 2006. Contested primaries naturally draw better, but how much better when in competition with the Slay-Smith-Coleman contest?

People who have voted in past Green Party primaries know DeVivo's name, because this is his fourth run for citywide office on the Green ticket. But they don't amount to very many votes. His neighborhood activism in the Forest Park Southeast and Wells-Goodfellow neighborhoods have not translated into many votes in the past.

The former party leadership (who failed to file for re-election to their party committee seats) allied with the Gateway Green Alliance recruited McCowan to make a serious run at Slay, but many of them live in St. Louis County and are therefore ineligible to vote. Other McCowan supporters will be tempted to vote instead for Smith in the Democratic primary.

I give the edge to McCowan in a primary drawing fewer than a hundred votes.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this primary is whether the racial voting patterns that dominate Democratic primaries will surface in the party primary of as progressive an electorate as the Green electorate ought to be. DeVivo is white, and McCowan is black, but neither is believed to have entered the race because of the race of the other. In what pattern will Green voters respond?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice post. If Slay wins by less than a majority then I think he will be vulnerable against Coleman in the general election. If, that is, progressives can get their crap together and pressure McCowen out of the race. Given how stubborn certain members of the Green Party are, this might not be possible.

March 1, 2009 at 4:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm, I disagree with you on the level of dissatisfaction with Slay. A LOT of whites don't like him. I think it is enough to give Irene Smith the victory.

Irene Smith: 47%
Francis Slay: 42%
Denise Watson-Wesley Coleman: 11%

Other than that, I agree with your analysis of the Green Party race. That will be an interesting occurrence. However, have you heard rumblings in the background to get rid of partisan elections? I think that would be great.

March 2, 2009 at 3:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the last post. There are many unhappy people who REALLY dislike Sally - I mean Slay. Like you said hate is a bigger motivator.

March 3, 2009 at 12:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

12% for Coleman? I don't see who would be voting for her. I think anyone who doesn't write her off as a stalking horse will write her off for lack of experience. While there is a lot of anger against Slay, I wonder how many people just don't care about Irene Smith and are waiting for the general election. It was an empty day at the polls when I went this morning but I'm not sure who that benefits.

March 3, 2009 at 11:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey oracle,

any prognostications on the aldermanic races?

March 3, 2009 at 12:15 PM  
Blogger St. Louis Oracle said...

A couple answers:

I believe Coleman's votes will come from voters who dislike both Slay and Smith and, as I mentioned, more of them will come from white voters. Coleman could also appeal to people who dislike career politicians and think it's time for an outsider.

I haven't really studied the aldermanic races. The 3rd Ward results will be interesting, and I hope Antonio French pulls it off.

Other contests are interesting because of who seems uncompetitive. In the 25th, Travis Reems has been campaigning for a long time (reportedly including out of the License Collector's office where he worked, a no-no), but he doesn't seem to have gotten any traction. Closer to home in the 23rd Ward adjacent to my own, it seems like at least 6 candidates have visible lawn sign campaigns. Vaccaro, who had a substantial following when he used to run against the Slay organization, should be a shoo-in now that the organization has embraced him. The big surprise is the seeming uncompetitiveness of Judi Roman, who has vast experience running campaigns, powerful friends and has raised a boatload of money, but I've only seen one of her signs. Plus, 12 days out, she was still sitting on over $11K of her warchest. I expected better.

March 3, 2009 at 1:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What do you think of the low turnout? Who do you think that benefits? I say Irene Smith, but what's your take?

March 3, 2009 at 1:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oracle said:

Slay 49%
Smith 39%
Wesley-Coleman 12%

Voters said:

Slay 61.57%
Smith 31.92%
Wesley-Coleman 6.51%

March 3, 2009 at 11:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oracle, how do you think Maida Coleman will fare?

I think a post on St. Louis' political future would be nice. We all trust your judgment.

March 4, 2009 at 9:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice prediction retard!!

Slay won by 30 points!

Maybe you should start predicting the weather or something other than politics b/c you obviously have NO idea what you are talking about!!

March 10, 2009 at 10:06 AM  

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