Answering 11 Big Questions About A Republican Romp In Missouri
To keep things simple: Missouri Republicans had a banner night.
And Missouri Democrats are still in the political wilderness.
Buoyed by President Donald Trump’s popularity in the state, GOP candidates up and down the ballot won pivotal races. They also emerged victorious on Amendment 3, which repealed the Clean Missouri redistricting system.
To delve a bit deeper, here are the answers to the 11 questions I posed earlier in the week:
1. What will be the margin of the Trump-Biden presidential contest?
After winning Missouri by an eye-popping 19 percentage points in 2016, Trump regressed a bit but still won the state by more than 15 points.
Much of the change can be attributed to how former Vice President Joe Biden improved his lot in St. Louis County compared to Hillary Clinton. But Trump still dominated Missouri’s rural counties and won large suburbs like St. Charles and Jefferson counties with ease. That likely contributed to the Missouri GOP’s romp.
It remains to be seen though if this is permanent. If Trump is no longer on the top of the ticket, it’s an open question whether another GOP presidential candidate will energize Missourians as much as the president.
2. Can Parson outrun Trump?
Parson ended up getting about 2,000 more votes than Trump in his landslide victory over Democratic state Auditor Nicole Galloway. He became the first Republican gubernatorial candidate to outrun the GOP presidential nominee since John Ashcroft in 1988, not a small feat considering Democrats spent millions of dollars to take back the governorship.
Parson will now have four years to put his policy and political stamp on the state, able to affect such matters as redistricting and implementing a voter-approved Medicaid expansion. And speaking of 1988, this is the first time Republicans have won two gubernatorial elections in a row since Ashcroft’s historic win over Democrat Betty Hearnes.
3. Will Galloway broaden her party’s geographical coalition?
Galloway failed to piece together the urban-suburban-rural coalition that Democrats of yesteryear used to win statewide elections. In fact, she ended up losing places like Clay and Platte counties that seemed to be moving in the Democratic direction in the era of Trump.
While it may be a stretch to win back places like northeast and southeast Missouri anytime soon, Missouri Democrats will likely remain in a permanent minority if they can’t figure out ways to win in larger jurisdictions like Jefferson or Buchanan counties. The math for winning statewide races in the state doesn’t work for a party that just wins in urban areas and inner-ring suburbs.
4. How will the Democratic down-ballot ticket fare?
Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, state Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick, Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft all won their races by larger margins than Parson. And it’s not that surprising, given that it’s very hard to unseat a statewide official besides governor — especially when the Democrats aren’t well known or well funded.
Since Parson cannot run for another term as governor after 2024, it’s likely that one or more of the current statewide officeholders may try to succeed him. That could provide Democrats with a better chance of gaining statewide ground, though the party will need to defend Galloway if she runs for reelection in 2022.
5. Will rural Missouri once again deliver for Republicans?
One of the big reasons Missouri Republicans are so dominant is their lock on rural voters. That helps them in state legislative races that were historically competitive and winning statewide elections where the rural vote is a critical component of their coalition.
As mentioned before, it’s not out of the question that Missouri Republicans’ fortunes wane when Trump leaves the political scene. But for this cycle, their stout performance continues to pay dividends.
6. Could St. Louis County see a Democratic landslide?
Yes and no.
Biden did end up getting over 60% of the vote in St. Louis County, which other Democratic candidates, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, didn't do.
But that didn’t really help Democratic candidates like 2nd Congressional District hopeful Jill Schupp or 15th Senate District nominee Deb Lavender. Even though both were way ahead when St. Louis County’s massive batch of absentee voters went public, they were both soundly defeated when the county’s Election Day votes went live.
That showed that even if voters in St. Louis County may have been leery of Trump, their disdain wasn’t enough to kick other Republicans out of office. After all, Wagner actually did better in St. Louis County against Schupp than she did against Cort VanOstran in 2018.
7. Can Republicans hold the line in St. Charles County?
Very much so.
Trump, Wagner and Parson all won convincing margins in the county that Democrats have for years seen as an opportunity. And Republicans won a number of state legislative races that were widely seen as competitive.
But St. Charles County wasn’t necessarily decisive in the Wagner-Schupp race, especially since Wagner won the St. Louis County part of the district outright. Since Schupp didn’t win, it will remain to be seen if St. Charles County Republicans are successful at putting most of their county in the 2nd District during next year’s redistricting cycle.
8. Can Democrats crack the GOP’s veto-proof majorities?
Democrats struck out in the St. Louis County-based 15th Senate District contest between GOP Sen. Andrew Koenig and Democratic state Rep. Deb Lavender. Koenig, who along with his campaign team reportedly knocked on tens of thousands of doors, cemented himself as one of Missouri’s best campaigners.
Republicans also emerged victorious in the 19th Senate District race, which includes Boone County, as Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden fended off a tough challenge from former Democratic state Rep. Judy Baker. And House Democrats failed to gain significant ground.
With Parson’s victory though, breaking the veto-proof majority became less important since he can sign bills into law that pass with less than two-thirds approval.
9. Will money and organization defeat Amendment 3?
Amendment 3, which repeals the Clean Missouri redistricting system, managed to pass narrowly even though opponents vastly outspent proponents on things like television advertisements. Just two years ago, the effort to pass Clean Missouri wildly succeeded thanks in no small part to an anemic opposition campaign.
There are two possible reasons for Amendment 3’s success. One is that the biggest proponent was the Missouri Farm Bureau, which carries significant influence in rural Missouri. The other factor was the language describing the initiative on ballots placed marginal changes to lobbyist gift and campaign donation limits before a fairly incomplete summary of the redistricting changes.
Appellate judges ended up writing that summary — the same group of people who will likely draw House and Senate maps next year.
10. Will Democrats finally prevail in a key southern Illinois contest?
Despite their best efforts, Illinois Democrats could not defeat Rep. Rodney Davis in the perennially competitive 13th Congressional District. In fact, Davis won over Betsy Dirsken Londrigan by a larger margin than in 2018.
That means that since 2012, Illinois Democrats were only able to win a southern Illinois congressional district with portions of the Metro East once. That’s when Democrat Bill Enyart defeated Republican Jason Plummer, only to see the seat flip to the Republicans when U.S. Rep. Mike Bost prevailed.
11. How will St. Louis ballot items fare?
It was a mixed bag.
Efforts to remove the city’s worker residency requirement flopped. But voters did approve a property tax hike aimed at expanding early childhood education services. And most notably, St. Louis residents have backed nonpartisan approval voting, which will allow people to vote for as many candidates as they want on a ballot. The top two vote-getters will now go to an April runoff election.
This could spur more people to get into the mupcoming election against St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson. St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones announced on Wednesday that she was jumping into the race, and more are expected to follow in the coming weeks.
Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum