Around the U.S. in 50 Days: Missouri

The state of Missouri is shaping up as a very interesting state politically in 2012. Besides the Presidential election, there is a Senate race and Governor’s race, redistricting to reflect the loss of a House seat and lots of drama over those redistricting plans and the plans of incumbents. All of this occurs in a political vacuum until the courts decide the fate of the plans. In 2008, McCain won the state by less than 4000 votes which is dangerously close to recount territory. Had the national race been closer, there is no doubt that an army of lawyers would have descended on Missouri in 2008. In 2012, the race will definitely NOT be that close. Still, the most recent polling out of Missouri indicate that Obama has an approval rating of 45%. From everything I have read, those figures may be suspect and a bit too optimistic. Obama cannot and will not win this state in 2012 and the margin of victory will be nowhere near 4000. Their ten electoral votes go to the GOP nominee.
In 2008, Jay Nixon won the Governor’s race with over 58% of the vote and faces reelection this year. Three of the best GOP candidates in hypothetical polling- John Danforth, Peter Kinder, and Sarah Steelman- have all declined a run at Nixon in 2012. Instead, that “honor” will fall to businessman Dave Spence who intends to use his “novice” status to run as an outsider. Nixon will win reelection by about the same margin as he did in 2008.

Missouri lost a House seat. The legislature drew a new map that basically drew incumbent Democrat and a big name in Missouri politics, Russ Carnahan, out of his 3rd District by splitting it apart into other redrawn districts. This did not sit well with Nixon who vetoed the plan. However, with the help of two Democrats, the legislature over rode the veto only to have the plan land in the Missouri courts. Admittedly, by drawing the 3rd out of existence, it created some interesting looking districts to which Missouri politicians have attached some interesting names. While this legal mess is being settled, potential candidates are not sure where they will run. Assuming the courts eventually uphold the plan, there are some options available. Compounding the problem is the fact that no incumbents are retiring except Todd Akin in the 2nd and that is to run for the Senate. We do know that Carnahan, the most endangered incumbent Democrat, will run for reelection, but where we do not know at this point.
Besides the morass over redistricting, the GOP is finding it difficult to find candidates to run in certain state level races like Attorney General. But as bad as that is, the Missouri Democratic Party is essentially bankrupt with loads of debt. This disarray only confuses the situation even further on both sides but for different reasons. Before looking at the House races, perhaps it would be better to look where there is more certainty- the Senate race. Incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill faces re-election and she was targeted by the GOP almost as soon as the votes were counted in 2010. In fact, this is shaping up as a very important race in control for the Senate. What probably worries Democrats the most is the fact that their experimentation with almost voting Democratic in 2008 is a thing of the past and that Missouri will likely resort to its traditional red status (a situation evident in Indiana also) and that Obama’s lack of popularity will hurt McCaskill.
Her most likely opponent will be Rep. Todd Akin. However, before he can lay claim to the nomination, he will first face a primary channel from former state treasurer Sarah Steelman. Thus far, if fund raising is an indication, it would be a close race. Akin, working from a position of incumbency, has raised $1.2 million while Steelman has raised $1.1 million. Most polls have an Akin-McCaskill race as almost dead even and McCaskill beating Steelman. Much of that could possibly be attributable to statewide name recognition. Admittedly, McCaskill’s positions on certain issues could help portray her as a moderate Democrat. However, all Akin has to do is cite her 94% rating from the AFL-CIO, her 100% ratings from Planned Parenthood and NARAL and 87% rating from the ACLU as evidence of her liberal tendencies and being outside the mainstream of Missouri. Likewise, McCaskill can paint Akin as a conservative demagogue, especially some of his stances in the House. Also, expect the now-settled Akin residency issue to be resurrected and played for more than it is worth. This will be a close one to call. There is no doubt that McCaskill has a large war chest ($5.9 million) and does not face a primary challenge and the double edged sword of incumbency. At this point, despite a lot of eyes focused on this race and probably a lot of money, assuming Obama stays out of Misoouri, at this point I would call this one for McCaskill.
As mentioned earlier, Missouri loses a seat in the House. Naturally, that creates problems for incumbents. There is only one incumbent retirement- Todd Akin in the 2nd. the legislature disbanded Carnahan’s 3d District and drew him into the 1st District in direct conflict with fellow Democratic incumbent William Clay. In order to avoid what would be a bloody primary fight, Carnahan will most likely run in the new 2nd District. Of the eight new districts, five are no-brainers for incumbents: Democrats William Clay in the 1st and Emmanuel Cleaver in the 5th and Republicans Blaine Leutkemeyer in the 3rd, Vicki Hartzler in the 4th and Jo Ann Emerson in the 8th. Conceivably, Carnahan could run in the 3rd, but that would pit him against a popular, established Republican incumbent.
Two other most likely Republican retentions are the 6th held by Sam Graves who will likely face a rematch against 2010 nominee Clint Hylton and Billy Long in the 7th where he will also most likely face 2010 Democratic nominee Nick Ladedorf and independent candidate Dean Moore.
This then leaves the highly contested 2nd District and the most likely landing space for Russ Carnahan. If he runs here, it is difficult to see any other Democrat challenging him in a primary. And given the name, recognition should be no problem, nor should fund raising. However, before the Democrats in Missouri pop the cork on the champagne bottle, he will face some serious competition. The first is Ed Martin ho originally decided on a Senate run before deciding on this race. But interestingly, there are now rumors that Martin will consider a run for Governor This may produce the perception of political opportunism and turn off Missouri voters. In all probability, the GOP will field a better candidate in Ann Wagner, a former Ambassador and Vice Chair of the National GOP. Those credentials grant her access to money and connections and, in fact, she has $1.1 million in the bank (Martin has half that amount) while Carnahan has $721,000. Perhaps, it would be better for Martin to enter the Governor’s race and create a more clear path for Wagner. The cleaner Wagner comes out of a primary, the stronger an opponent she will be. Given the lack of approval for Obama in Missouri and some down ticket effect, I would have to call this race for the GOP at this point although it could change on a dime.
In conclusion, their ten electoral votes go to the GOP nominee in a not-as-close-as-2008 race while McCaskill wins a razor thin victory over Todd Akin. After this election, it will be 6-2 Republican, representing a one seat loss for the Democrats (or one seat gain for the GOP).

Running totals thus far:
Obama with 99 electoral votes to 117 for the GOP;
Net gain of 2 governors;
Net gain of 3 Senate seats;
Net loss of 6 House seats.

Next: Arkansas