On the surface, the purpose of Tuesday’s primary is only to select candidates who will run in the November general election. But in reality, the results could resonate for years to come.
That’s because Missouri voters will decide whether to retain the right-to-work law, which bars unions and employers from requiring workers to pay dues as a condition of employment. And in the St. Louis region, prevailing in the Democratic primary is often tantamount to election — especially in state legislative and local contests.
This flurry of activity is enough to make Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft believe that turnout will be more robust than usual on Tuesday. He told St. Louis Public Radio the right-to-work referendum, known as Proposition A, could boost turnout to around 30 percent.
“My biggest concern is we’re only going to have less than a third of our registered voters show up,” Ashcroft said. “If you’re registered to vote, you can vote. And we need you to. Everyone who doesn’t vote — we lose their wisdom and their experience. And I think the more of us we have that are trying to find the best solution, the better off we are.”
As is tradition before an important election, here are a few things St. Louis Public Radio’s political team will be looking for after all the votes are counted.
When lawmakers moved right to work to the August primary, they guaranteed that the issue would be the most impactful item that voters decided. National and local labor unions have poured millions of dollars to convince Missourians to vote ‘no’ on Proposition A, a move that would repeal a law barring unions and employers from requiring workers to pay dues as a condition of employment.
Detractors of right to work aren’t just hoping for a win. They’re angling to defeat Proposition A soundly enough for lawmakers to take notice.
“It’s extremely important to beat this by a larger percentage,” said Aurora Bihler, an ironworker who lives in St. Louis. “There’s already been movements to try and get lesser amount of people to vote — it was supposed to be in the general, now it’s in the primary. But at the same time, [legislators] made this a single-issue vote.”
If Proposition A loses by a huge margin, it may make lawmakers and Gov. Mike Parson think twice before trying to enact right to work in the 2019 session. For now, Parson said he wants voters to keep right to work in place. “I do think many states have moved forward on the right-to-work issue, and it’s been very positive for those states,” he said.
It’s reasonable to say that St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger, St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch and St. Louis County Councilman Pat Dolan are banking on union members turning out in force on Tuesday.
All three Democrats are facing well-organized challengers. And since labor unions are backing these incumbents’ candidacies, turnout from Proposition A could have a major impact on whether they stay in office or face defeat.
It should be noted that the trio’s respective challengers — Mark Mantovani, Wesley Bell and Lisa Clancy — are emphasizing their right-to-work opposition. They’re hoping that labor union members that could come out in force in north and south St. Louis County are willing to vote ‘no’ on Prop A and ‘yes’ to newcomers in county government.
Attorney General Josh Hawley has obtained many of the key political and organizational endorsements in the GOP primary for U.S. Senate. That includes the backing of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, a ticket that took Missouri by storm in 2016.
With the exceptions of rivals Austin Petersen and Tony Monetti, most of Hawley’s GOP primary opponents haven’t raised much money or developed significant statewide organizations. So, it will be worth watching to see if the backing of Trump gives Hawley a big win — or if Petersen or Monetti were able to keep things close. (Since there are 11 candidates, the percentage of the winner may be lower than if it were a two or three person race.)
Regardless of Tuesday’s outcome, the Missouri Senate general election is almost certain to attract national attention and a whole lot of money — making it the marquee contest for voters in November.
In some respects, there’s been a philosophical tussle between “experience” and “change” in American politics for nearly decade. And the debate is raging in a number of races for House and Senate seats.
Two of the most competitive Senate races in the region — the 14th and 18th District contests — feature first-time candidates (Brian Williams and Cindy O’Laughlin) running against current or former state lawmakers. Numerous House races throughout the St. Louis metro area feature youthful contenders squaring off against people with extensive electoral experience.
Since many of these primaries feature candidates with fairly similar views on issues, whether a candidate has a governmental track record or not could be a key factor in how voters select their state lawmakers.
Some of the higher-profile contests in the St. Louis region have gotten decidedly testy, especially the county executive contest between Stenger and Mantovani. Many African-American political figures and more left-of-center activists are backing Mantovani, as well as Bell and Clancy in their races against McCulloch and Dolan.
Both U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and state Auditor Nicole Galloway need strong turnout in St. Louis County for their general election re-election campaigns. If fences aren’t mended between the warring sides of these primaries, then it’s not out of the question that Democratic turnout takes a hit in November.
Then again, the primary season could be a distant memory by the fall — especially if the national political environment and either support or distaste for President Donald Trump drives St. Louis County voters to the polls.
On the Trail, an occasional column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics.
Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum