Missouri Democrats seek to re-energize at Jefferson-Jackson Dinner
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 17, 2011 - Hoping to regroup after last fall's disastrous elections, more than 500 Missouri Democrats are expected to gather this evening at the Renaissance Grand Hotel for the annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner.
The gathering is traditionally the state party's biggest fundraising event of the year, with tonight's tickets ranging from $125 to $500 a plate.
All of Missouri's statewide Democrats will address the crowd, along with U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and several Wisconsin state legislators who have been involved in that state's high-profile partisan battles to curb collective-bargaining rights for public employees.
The choice of Tester and the legislators appears aimed at appealing to two different Democratic factions:
-- Tester is a moderate Democrat whose philosophy is somewhat in line with that of U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who expects to face a stiff re-election fight in 2012.
-- the Wisconsin legislators are likely a big attraction for labor leaders and activists, who provide political muscle and money for many Democratic candidates -- particularly those in the St. Louis area.
Tonight's event will be among the first occasions this year where the speakers include McCaskill and Gov. Jay Nixon, former Democratic rivals who now often confer on political matters. In such settings in the past, McCaskill often has offered more combative remarks, while Nixon -- who deals with a Republican-controlled legislature -- generally has taken pains in his public statements to avoid direct partisan attacks.
The other speakers also exemplify the challenges, past and present, facing Missouri Democrats:
-- Attorney General Chris Koster (a former Republican close to Nixon, but on strained terms with some Democratic activists);
-- state Treasurer Clint Zweifel (who announced Monday his plans to seek re-election);
-- Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (who got creamed last fall in her bid for the U.S. Senate);
-- state Democratic Party chair Susan Montee (who lost her re-election quest last fall).
On the upside, only McCaskill and Nixon have official Republican rivals who have announced their candidacies, or are expected to soon do so.