U.S. Reps. Mike Bost and Ann Wagner bucked a national trend to survive tough Democratic challenges Tuesday.
The two Republicans will return to a House that Democrats control after the GOP lost a number of other seats across the country.
In Illinois’ 12th District, Bost edged out Democrat Brendan Kelly, who serves as St. Clair County state’s attorney. The Murphysboro native kept the district in Republican hands after decades of Democratic rule. Wagner defeated Democratic challenger Cort VanOstran in Missouri’s 2nd Congressional District.
Wagner beat VanOstran by around 5 percentage points — her closest margin in her six-year congressional career. Speaking to reporters in Des Peres before the results came in, she said she wasn’t surprised by the tighter-than-normal contest.
“It’s a tough race,” Wagner said. “This district has always been a tough, swing district.”
In Murphysboro, Illinois, Bost said “we fought hard, focused on the issues, and always made Southern Illinois values our top priority.”
Both races had strategic importance for Democrats, especially the 12th District. By defeating Bost, Democrats could pick up a seat in a place where President Donald Trump maintained some popularity. Trump held two rallies in the 12th District throughout the campaign.
After losing the 12th District in 2014, Democrats had high hopes Kelly’s name recognition in St. Clair County and the political demise of Gov. Bruce Rauner would be enough for him to win. But Bost is known for winning tough elections on a local, state and federal level. He also had help from political action groups that disparaged Kelly’s record as state’s attorney.
Even though he lost, Kelly said he was heartened that Illinois Democrats won up and down the ballot.
“I think you should feel very encouraged what happened at the state level with our new governor and new attorney general," Kelly added. "And I think for the people who are Republicans, who we ran against, we need to set aside those things which have divided us. We need to set aside those things and try to work together.”
While Democrats have done well in the 12th District for decades, Republicans have traditionally held an edge in Missouri’s 2nd District. But Wagner faced a stouter challenge than usual from VanOstran, a Clayton attorney who raised much more money than a typical Democratic challenger.
"And I want you all to know that I am more determined than ever to continue the good work that we have done on this campaign,” VanOstran said in his concession speech.
Still, Wagner held a decisive advantage in terms of having campaign money in the bank. She also has the experience as a shrewd political and campaign strategist, both on a local and national level and a substantial part of the district is strongly Republican.
She noted that she didn’t end up running a single negative ad against VanOstran — even though he ran ads criticizing her record on health care.
“I ran a 100 percent positive campaign,” Wagner said. “Every, single commercial that you saw up on TV that had the name ‘paid for by Ann Wagner for Congress’ was a positive ad based on my results in my record. My opponent can’t say that.”
National, state results are a boon for Clay
Most of the other congressional contests throughout the St. Louis area were largely uncompetitive. Democratic Congressman Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, easily won his race over Republican Robert Vroman in Missouri’s 1st Congressional District.
And Congressman Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, prevailed over Democrat Katy Geppert in Missouri’s 3rd District contest. Luetkemeyer’s district includes parts of St. Charles, Jefferson and Franklin counties.
Because Democrats took over Congress, Clay has the opportunity to wield more influence on the House Financial Services Committee and the House Oversight Committee. He said on Tuesday that he was heartened that his party will serve as a check against Trump.
“I think it is a rebuke of his presidency and his administration — especially when you think about the promises made,” Clay said. “He promised to drain the swamp. And it looks as if they filled the swamp up with a lot of creepy crawlers.”
Luetkemeyer was widely seen as a possible Financial Services Committee chairman if the GOP maintained control.
Clay’s general election victory came on the 50th anniversary of his father Bill Clay’s first win to Congress. By the time Clay finishes up his next term, he will have served for 20 years in the House.
This year, he was also able to help many of his allies, including Sens.-elect Brian Williams and Karla May, both of St. Louis, to take over state Senate seats. He said that provides an opportunity for state and federal cooperation.
“And that’s why people like Karla May, Brian Williams and these young state reps have all decided it’s bigger than the individual,” Clay said. “This is about the people that entrusted us to be their voice in Jefferson City, Washington or city hall. And they want to work together to get things done and we will be successful.”
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