Updated 11 p.m. Feb. 18 with Clinton office opening - Although Missouri is often portrayed as a Republican-leaning state, it’s the two Democratic presidential candidates – Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders –who are the first to open office space in the state for the March 15 presidential primary.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., headlined a rally Thursday night officially opening the St. Louis office for presidential contender Hillary Clinton. Most the state’s top Democrats already have endorsed her, including Gov. Jay Nixon.
Clinton’s regional office will be in the building housing Local 42 of the Laborers Union, near Harris-Stowe State University. A few days ago, her campaign opened a similar office in Kansas City.
Her state campaign spokesman Drew Pusateri says Missouri’s March 15 primary is important. “I think Missouri will be an important bellwether for the campaign,” Pusateri said.
“I think Missouri offers a good opportunity for the campaign to show how broad Hillary Clinton’s appeal is and that she’s willing to fight for people no matter where they’re from, what they look like or what they’re doing.”
Pusateri, who previously had been on McCaskill’s staff, added that he’s been impressed by the enthusiasm of Clinton’s area supporters. They’ve been seeking him out ever since he hit town last week.
Clinton’s Democratic rival, Bernie Sanders, already opened his St. Louis campaign office last week. And his campaign announced that a Kansas City office will be open by this weekend.
Sanders’ St. Louis office, on Cherokee Street, was hit by vandals last week, but supporters say any damage has been cleaned up. For the moment, Sanders’ volunteers are focusing on weekend canvasses.
McCaskill, et al jabs at Sanders
At Thursday's office-opening rally, McCaskill emphasized to the crowd that she believed national Republicans were attacking Clinton -- and not Sanders -- out of strategy.
Republicans "believe he'll be easier to defeat in November,'' the senator said. McCaskill said that Sanders has been espousing the same views for 20 years, and "he's never moved the needle."
She was among several speakers who laced their criticisms of Sanders with general praise. Said state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis: "We like Bernie Sanders. He's with us. But he's not the man to get the job done."
Republicans yet to plant Missouri roots
Clinton’s campaign rally here in December, at another union hall, appears to have been the largest presidential event here for the 2016 campaign.
Among the remaining GOP candidates, only Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has appeared publicly in St. Louis. He was among several contenders – the rest of whom have since dropped out -- who spoke at last fall’s regional meeting of the Eagle Forum, an influential group founded by prominent conservative Phyllis Schlafly.
Missouri GOP chairman John Hancock had hoped that some of his party’s presidential hopefuls would appear at the party’s statewide Lincoln Days festivities, to be held Feb. 26-28 in St. Louis.
But that won’t happen, Hancock said, because the event is too close to the crowd of Super Tuesday caucuses and primaries on March 1.
None of the Republican presidential contenders has yet to open offices in the state, but most have announced major Missouri supporters.
Cruz’s campaign manager is Jeff Roe, a prominent Republican consultant based in Kansas City. Roe’s clients have included U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, R-Tarkio, who has endorsed Cruz.
Other Cruz backers include former state Rep. Carl Bearden of St. Charles, former state Sen. Jim Lembke of Lemay and Ryan Johnson, executive director of the conservative Missouri Alliance for Freedom.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has collected a growing number of prominent GOP supporters, including U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem; Missouri House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff and Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard, R-Joplin.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s Missouri team includes former U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Columbia, state Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City and former state GOP chairman David Cole.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s Missouri allies include U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin.