2014 midterm predictions: state and local
Dull is the new black. At least two times out of three. While glitz usually wins, this will be the year for the capable but charisma-challenged candidate.
Were it not for the political fallout following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, this would be the dullest election in my lifetime. For the first time perhaps since the founding of the Republican Party, a major political party (in this case the Democrats) has failed to file a candidate for a statewide office. Not even a vanity candidate! The State Auditor contest, in which capable but charisma-challenged first-term Republican incumbent Tom Schweich is opposed only by candidates of the Libertarian and Constitution parties, is also Missouri's only statewide contest. Furthermore, every Missouri congressman, 6 Republicans and 2 Democrats, are prohibitively safe. In St. Louis County, newly controversial prosecuting attorney Bob McCulloch is running unopposed. I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that Schweich, McCulloch and all of Missouri's congressmen get reelected!
The most interesting contest in the state is for St. Louis County Executive. Councilman Steve Stenger, a south county white who had McCulloch's backing, defeated Africian American incumbent Charlie Dooley in a racially charged Democratic primary. Four days later Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old African American, was killed by a white Ferguson police officer, triggering unrest that continues to get national attention. McCulloch has refused to bring charges against the officer unless indicted by a grand jury. McCulloch has resisted African American demands that he recuse himself because of the bias that might logically result from McCulloch's police officer father having been killed in the line of duty by an African American suspect. Stenger has stood by McCulloch, prompting many African American Democratic leaders to endorse and actively work for Stenger's capable but charisma-challenged Republican opponent, state rep Rick Stream. The St. Louis American, the area's largest black weekly, has not endorsed in the race, but columnists Umar Lee and The Eye have endorsed Stream. Other blacks, wary of backing any Republican, have lined up behind the write-in candidacy of local African American Green Party leader Zaki Baruti.
Ordinarily these developments would destroy a Democratic candidacy, especially in an election shaping up as a Republican wave. In the Republican wave of 2010, the black vote provided Dooley's margin of victory. But I think this year's black Democrat defections are being overestimated. Congressman Lacy Clay has provided cover for party-loyal blacks by endorsing Stenger. I also remember years ago when Tom Zych defeated African American aldermanic president Tink Bradley in a racially charged Democratic primary, African American leader Jet Banks threw his support to Republican alderman Leonard Burst, but Banks could only deliver a third of the vote in his own ward. And as I wrote in my previous post, Stenger may benefit from white backlash over the Ferguson events. Four years ago, Dooley's Republican challenger Bill Corrigan carried South County big. This year, that's Stenger country. That's the area that has twice elected him to the county council, and south county lawns are a sea of dark blue with his lawn signs. Stenger will still carry the black vote, though by less than usual, and whites moving to Stenger will outnumber blacks moving to Stream. Advantage Stenger (unless that “charisma-challenged” wave carries Stream over the top).
A capable but charisma-challenged candidate with better odds of winning is Democratic County Assessor Jake Zimmerman. His cowboy-themed television commercial may be the best of the year. While he isn't as sure a bet as Schweich, Zimmerman still wins, even in a Republican wave.
Two open state senate seats are also drawing big bucks and lots of interest. The Democrat seat in the Republican-trending 22nd District in Jefferson County pits Democrat state rep Jeff Roorda against Republican state rep Paul Wieland. Democrat Roorda is using his board membership of a charity supporting the policeman that shot Brown and his high-profile police union position to tap into the white backlash following Ferguson, and he should win. Unless Wieland can tap into that “charisma-challenged” wave.
The Republican seat in the Democrat-trending 24th District in St. Louis County's central corridor pits Democrat state rep Jill Schupp against Republican attorney John “Jay” Ashcroft, the namesake son of Missouri's former governor, U.S. Senator and Missouri and U.S. Attorney general. Schupp's television ads resurrect the Democrats' 2012 “war on women” theme, a tactic which Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) is also using and receiving lots of criticism for doing. But while Ashcroft was actually the most moderate of the three Republican primary candidates for this seat, his surname may prove to be more hindrance than help among a moderate electorate that has soured on political dynasties – Carnahan, Clay, Bush, Blunt, and maybe even Clinton. Ashcroft's lovely wife, featured prominently in his ads, preclude him from joining the “charisma-challenged” wave, but the 2014 Republican wave should be enough to lift Ashcroft to victory.
The only notable contest in the city of St. Louis is recorder of deeds. Long-time recorder Sharon Carpenter resigned over a nepotism scandal but still won the Democratic primary for a new term. Her appointed replacement, former alderman Jennifer Florida, is running as an independent with the endorsement of Mayor Francis Slay. In 2011 Florida rebelled against the work-ethic demands of aldermanic president Jim Shrewsbury and backed Lewis Reed's successful challenge, but she switched her loyalty to Slay last year when Reed unsuccessfully challenged Slay. The city Democratic party isn't even objecting to Florida's campaign literature labeling her an “independent Democrat,” a label over which the party previously challenged African American Sen. Maida Coleman when she did so. The St. Louis American is endorsing Carpenter, noting that city government “would shut down instantly if every relative of an elected official walked off the job.” While all candidates (including Republican Erik Shelquist) are white, this may turn into a north-south battle, with the north side for Carpenter and the south side (except Carpenter's 23rd Ward) for Florida. Turnout is the key, and that gives the advantage to Florida.