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'If Barack Obama looked like me he'd win Missouri,' says consultant Michael Kelley

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Name:  Michael Kelley

Party: Democrat

Age:  37

Twitter: @mskstl

Education: University of Missouri – St. Louis

Job:  Founder, principal, the Kelley Group, a public communication strategy firm; and Show Me Victories, a political consulting firm.

Clout: Kelley was the executive director of the Missouri Democratic Party from 2000-2004 and also served as political director of the Missouri AFL-CIO. (His father, Robert Kelley, was the longtime head of the St. Louis Labor Council.) He was national political advisor to Rep. Richard Gephardt during Gephardt’s unsuccessful presidential bid in 2003-4; he ran John Edwards’ Missouri campaign after Gephardt dropped out of the race.  He founded the Kelley Group in 2004 and now provides political advice to candidates and proposition campaigns – notably the successful $1 billion MSD bond issue campaign last summer. Kelley is also featured frequently with Republican consultant John Hancock on KMOX radio and runs a blog, KelleyCorner.com

Current campaign work:  Proposition A (local police control) and various  Democratic state legislative candidates.

I know I’ve done a good job when …:  “…When our client is successful and no one really knows I played a role.”

Beyond November:  “I think we’re going to have to finally quit kicking the can down the road. We’ve got a fiscal cliff we’re going to come to in 2013.  Governing really takes place in off-election years. I think you’re going to see maybe for the first time in a while the politicians realize they have to compromise and find solutions.  In Missouri, the number one issue is to create jobs.  We have an irrelevant legislature.  We haven’t passed an economic development bill in 4-5 years.  Anytime tough decisions come up, they punt. They’re not doing their job. Term limits is a problem, one of the most harmful things we’ve ever experienced. It makes lobbyists far more powerful than they should be.  It discourages compromise because he (the term-limited legislator) doesn’t have to live to fight another day. “

Biggest political disappointment:  Gephardt’s loss in the presidential primaries.

Political hero:  Gephardt.  “Dick Gephardt was the finest public servant I’ve met in my life.  He’s a person who stood up for working people when it wasn’t a popular thing.  He remained grounded in who he was. Dick Gephardt was the perfect example of someone who played inside of the process but had in mind people who worked for a living. He’s the most decent human being I’ve ever been around in politics.  Others:  Robert F. Kennedy, John Lennon (“he was a prophet for peace”).  And, of course, his father, “The single smartest person I’ve met.”

Most important race:  U.S. Senate race in Missouri.  “The path forward for Republicans to control of the Senate has to go through Missouri.  Moving to extremist ridiculousness, the Republican Party has found its face in Todd Akin. Claire McCaskill is a moderate who’s done her best to reflect Missouri.  If she loses, the Senate will be controlled by Republicans.”

Underrated race:  Missouri Secretary of State. Jason Kander (D) vs. Shane Schoeller (R).  “Unfortunately,  we have a legislature that’s not addressing major needs, so we have well-financed, special interest groups putting issues on the ballot. The secretary of state drafts that ballot language.  I believe it’s important to have a secretary of state who accurately portrays the effect of the ballot measures.  There’s a lot of money on both sides put in that race recently.”

Overrated race: Missouri attorney general. “It’s been overhyped. Chris Koster (D) has broad-based support; Ed Martin (R) is showing the new face of the party in Missouri. He’s continued to be a radical, far-right extremist. If Ed Martin and Todd Akin have a chance in Missouri, I’m not sure this is a state I want to live in.”

Biggest primary surprise: Akin. “Usually the candidate who has the most money wins.  Brunner was a strong candidate, but ads run by outside groups helped Akin win that race.”

Akin/McCaskill prediction: “I think Claire wins. Unfortunately it’s going to be much closer than it should be. That’s reflective of the sad state of Missouri.”

But Kelley doesn’t think Missouri has turned permanently red. “I don’t buy it,” he says. “Democrats outperform Republicans in statewide elections. Unfortunately because of term limits and redistricting, the Republicans have drawn lines so Democrats are packed in urban areas. Before 2008, Missouri was a targeted swing state in presidential elections.” Why not now? Race. “If Barack Obama looked like me, he’d win Missouri. Say what you want – it’s race. That’s the sad reality.”

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