Primary could dilute African American clout in St Louis
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.