Down in the Weeds: Missouri

Promoted from the diaries by streiff. Promotion does not imply endorsement.

At first glance, Missouri would appear to be a GOP stronghold, and it likely will be in 2020.  Trump won Missouri by 16 points, but candidates down the ballot underperformed the President.  For instance, Roy Blunt won his Senate race in 2016 by only three points and former Governor Eric Greitens won that race by six points.  Since taking office, Trump’s approval rating in the state has dropped a net 14 points, according to Morning Consult.  Remington Research noted that their most recent poll in Missouri found a 53% approval rating for Trump.

This is bolstered by the fact that about 60% of Missouri voters hail from rural areas and Trump support in these areas is an astronomical 84%.  Of course, things could change between now and Election Day 2020 to loosen some of that support.  Trump, however, seems to be safe in Missouri at this point.  Because there is no Senate race on the ballot, neither party is expected to vigorously fight for Missouri’s electoral votes.  It also means there will be no great influx of outside money and that plays into the gubernatorial race.

Current Republican Governor Mike Parsons assumed the office after Eric Greitens resigned in the face of impeachment in the state senate over campaign finance and sexual misconduct charges.  Parsons’ tenure as Governor has been rather low-key, especially after the rancor over Greitens.  Other than an abortion bill he signed into law outlawing abortion after eight weeks, his tenure has been rather staid which most analysts welcomed.  Because he is the incumbent, he starts his election campaign with a decided advantage in cash.  Considering that outside money may be hard to come by for Democrats, that further strengthens the hand of Parsons.

The Democrats have their candidate in state auditor Nicole Galloway, the only Democrat to hold statewide office in Missouri.  Claiming that Missouri cannot afford another four years of Parsons, she cites the drop in Medicaid rolls (that’s a bad thing?) and the closure of some hospitals in rural parts of the state.

Jean Peters Baker is chairwoman of the state Democrat party and is under no false impression that the party can make major gains here other than possibly the Governor’s race.  Instead, their strategy involves the politics of abortion.  Realizing that Democrats cannot get their policies or positions heard in a state legislature dominated by Republicans along with a Republican Governor, this is the primary focus of the state Democrats.  State house minority leader Crystal Quade even said Democrats are counting on a voter backlash against the recently signed abortion bill now held up in the courts.  While noting that Missouri voters are generally in favor of pro-life politicians, she claims the current bill goes way too far.

Quade has noted that some long-time Republican donors like David Humphreys, CEO of TAMKO, has stated the law goes too far.  In fact, he is bankrolling an effort to have the law repealed claiming there are not adequate protections for victims of rape and incest.  He has formed a PAC designed to get a repeal of the law on the ballot in 2020.  This would keep the abortion issue running hot straight through the general election in November.

This is precisely the one issue Parsons wishes to avoid and has consistently focused on infrastructure, jobs, and education reform.  Compounding the problem for the state GOP is fundraising efforts.  At the end of June, the party had less than $60,000 in cash on hand, but were spending more than that every month.  By comparison, the Democrats have a 4-1 advantage in that area.  Financial disclosures noted that the Democrats recruited over 1,700 donors in 2019 thus far compared to only 19 for the GOP.  In June, 2019, for example, the state GOP brought in $12,000 and paid out $86,000.  According to the local papers, the state GOP had embarked on a belt-tightening effort after it was revealed that the party gave $200,000 to a PAC tied to former state chairman Todd Graves.  As a result, the state GOP has ceased any action on ballot initiatives which hamstrings efforts to support the abortion law.

With greater cash reserves, Democrats are feeling more confident of gains.  Their statewide candidates have failed miserably in swing areas like Jefferson and Buchanan counties.  They are trounced in rural counties and lost their strongholds in the northeast and southeast parts of the state.  Instead, Clem Smith, the vice-chair of the Democrats in Missouri is placing less emphasis on St. Louis and Kansas City and re-concentrating efforts on the suburbs and rural areas.  A signal this is working was in recent special elections in 2019 to fill vacant seats where they managed to recruit candidates willing to run in GOP strongholds.

A key test of the strategy occurred in the 99th state house district.  This is a suburban district in St. Louis county that regularly sent Republicans to office.  The seat was left vacant when Jean Evans took over the state GOP.  In the election, Democrat Trish Gunby defeated Republican Lee Ann Pitman.  Democrats also prevailed in races in the 74th and 78th state house districts.  In short, the Missouri legislature got a little bluer.  If the ongoing fight over abortion boosts voter turnout in the suburbs, that bolsters Galloway’s chances against Parsons.

But if the state GOP in Missouri has become complacent, if not corrupt financially, then Democrats may be their own worst enemies.  No amount of money will help a Democrat in Missouri if they nominate someone from the far Left like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren to run against Trump.  The national party’s more liberal brand is not popular in the state and their Democrat voters much prefer a moderate candidate.  In fact, many Democrat strategists and consultants fear the scenario of Sanders or Warren.

As for Trump, Parsons is firmly in his corner.  He recently released a video condemning the impeachment nonsense and Missouri’s GOP delegation in DC has stood firm with Trump on the issue.  Within hours of Pelosi announcing an impeachment inquiry in September, the state GOP opened a fund requesting that donors contribute $20.20 to help defend Republicans and build up the small donor base in the state.  A similar effort at the federal level managed to raise $5 million in 24 hours.

In the end, assuming Parsons can deftly negotiate the landmines of the abortion issue, he is not only insulated from any negativity surrounding Trump given the tendency of Missouri voters to avoid nationalizing a gubernatorial election, while simultaneously standing by Trump.  Trump’s coat tails may not carry Parsons back into office, but they will not hurt him either should things turn sour at the top of the ticket.

Next: Oklahoma