Beyond November
5:40 am
Thu August 2, 2012

Eight's a crowd: which Dem will make the Mo. Lt. Gov. race?

Missouri’s Democratic primary for Lieutenant Governor is by far the most crowded race in the state this election cycle. The eight candidates running represent a range of experience from across the state.

As St. Louis Public Radio’s Joseph Leahy reports, splitting the ballot eight ways means a winner could emerge with less than 20 percent of the vote.

The financial front runner

Susan Montee says she stepped down last November as Missouri’s Democratic Party chair to run for lieutenant governor because she was unable to recruit any strong candidates for the contest.

The former state auditor says she believed she was simply in the best position to beat Missouri’s Republican speaker of the House, Steven Tilley.

“I am not afraid of a challenge, " Montee says. "I’m not afraid to run this race and stand up for the people who need us most – our most valuable citizens, and the vulnerable people Jefferson City sometimes takes advantage of."

But after Tilley dropped out of the race, the field of Democrats snowballed to eight candidates.

More names equals a more-level field?

University of Missouri – St. Louis political science professor Terry Jones says while Montee is still considered the frontrunner -- having raised more money than the other candidates combined – the sheer number of names on the ballot has leveled the playing field. 

The sheer number of names on the ballot has leveled the playing field.

“A dynamic occurs where another person comes along and says ‘well, it only takes a plurality to win. There are now four people in the race. I think I could get 25 percent of the vote. That would make me the winner,’" Jones says. "And that person gets in and another person comes along and says ‘hey now it only would require 20 percent to win. I think I could get 20 percent.’”

The crowded field has made it a challenge for all candidates to raise money and attract attention. Jones says, as a result, the primary has been a relatively passive contest so far -- each candidate left alone to quietly carve out a constituent base just big enough to win.

Unique qualifications and experiences

Sara Lampe, for instance, is seeking to build upon her support as a state representative in conservative southwest Missouri. She says she plans to stand out with her administrative career in education.

“It’s not about just running for any state-wide office. It’s about the fact that this job is the thing I’ve done my whole life," Lampe says. "It’s about speaking out for people. It’s about advocating for them. It’s about setting a vision and a focus for the future for groups of people that don’t have lobbyists in the capital. ”

In addition to breaking tie votes in the senate and stepping up if  the governor is out of commission, the lieutenant governor sits on numerous advocacy boards, most notably for seniors and veterans.

Judy Baker has been playing up her experience as regional director for the Health and Human Services Department.

“Many of the things that the Lt. Gov. does I am uniquely qualified for having had a long career in health care and in policy making,” Baker says.

Regional ties make a difference?

Of course elections aren’t won on qualifications alone. Neither Montee, Lampe, nor Baker are from St. Louis – one of the state’s largest voting blocks.

Jones says whoever can carry the St. Louis area stands a good chance of winning. 

Jones says whoever can carry the St. Louis area stands a good chance of winning.

“The city of St. Louis and St. Louis County are very significant," Jones says. "They will be at least 25 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary. Possibly as much as 30 percent of the vote. So how one does in those two jurisdictions will be a very important factor.”

This factor could help candidates like St. Louis native and former state representative Fred Kratky, who has strong political ties in in the city.  It could also be a boost for St. Louis School Board member Bill Haas, who has the name recognition from running for numerous offices.

The only minority candidate on the ballot is Jackie Townes McGee. She spent eight years as a House member from Kansas City. There’s also Conservation Commission member Becky Plattner who ran for lieutenant governor in the 2008 Democratic primary.

Probably the least known of the eight candidates is St. Joseph resident Dennis Weisenburger, who has never held a political office.

Professor Jones says that so many are attracted to run for the office because it can provide a relatively easy road to possible political advancement.

“If a Democrat is elected lieutenant governor he or she will be seen as a significant challenger or possibility for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2016,” Jones says.

It won’t be easy in November for whoever wins, though.  The Democratic who emerges will have to shift gears from a crowded and sleepy primary to likely face a well-known, well-funded Republican opponent. 

Follow Joseph Leahy on Twitter: @JOEMIKELEAHY