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Cori Bush Upsets Lacy Clay In Congressional Democratic Primary

Cori Bush defeated Rep. Lacy Clay in the Democratic primary for Missouri's 1st Congressional District on Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2020.
David Kovaluk
St. Louis Public Radio
Cori Bush defeated Rep. Lacy Clay in the 1st Congressional District Democratic Primary.

Missouri’s 1st Congressional District will have a new Democratic candidate for the first time in more than 20 years, after Cori Bush defeated longtime Rep. Lacy Clay in Tuesday’s Democratic Primary.

“Tonight, Missouri’s 1st has decided that an incremental approach isn’t going to work any longer,” Bush, of Florissant, said at a celebration of her victory Tuesday night. “We decided that we the people, we have the answers and we will lead from the front lines.”

Bush, 44, ran on a progressive agenda saying Clay, of University City, had been in office too long and hadn’t done enough for the residents of the district. She defeated Clay by about 4,600 votes.


Bush is favored to win in November since the 1st District is mainly Democratic. If elected, she would become the state's first Black woman in Congress.

Her primary victory follows a string of wins by progressive candidates over the past several years across the country.

“This campaign was never about me and I could have never done this alone,” Bush said. “Make no mistake that this victory has been years in the making.”

Tuesday's election marked the second time Bush and Clay faced off. The two ran against each other in 2018, with Bush losing to Clay by about 20 percentage points.

But two years later, Bush’s notoriety grew dramatically, especially in progressive circles and among activist groups across the country. Bush became a popular voice in activist communities and joined protests in 2014 after Michael Brown was killed. Bush’s policies have gained her national attention and support from progressive leaders, including U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Jamaal Bowman of New York, who recently unseated U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel.

“Now we have a woman after all of these years in the history of this district,” Bush said. “It means that now regular people have a voice, I’m a working class person, now we have a voice.”

Cori Bush defeated Rep. Lacy Clay in the Democratic primary for Missouri's 1st Congressional District on Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2020.
David Kovaluk / St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio
"It is historic that this year of all years we are sending a Black, working-class single mother who's been fighting for Black lives in Ferguson all the way to the halls of Congress," Cori Bush said to cheering supporters after defeating Rep. Lacy Clay in the Democratic primary for Missouri's 1st Congressional District on Tuesday. "Today, the people won."

In a Tweet sent Wednesday afternoon, Clay congratulated Bush for her win.

"It has been my honor and privilege to represent those who supported me and all others," Clay Tweeted. "I am forever grateful for the opportunity to serve."

While Bush and Clay ran their campaigns by supporting similar progressive policies, including “Medicare for All” and supporting the Green New Deal, many of their campaign differences came down to differing stances on big money donations. Bush’s campaign criticized Clay for his acceptance of money from political action committees. Clay has been critical of Bush’s use of campaign donations to pay her salary.

Bush’s victory marks a turning point in the district after a 50-year political dynasty led by Clay and his father, Bill, before him. The contest intensified over the past few months after Bush topped Clay in fundraising in April through June. The influx in money allowed Bush to purchase television ads and send out mailers throughout the district.

“Today the people of St. Louis made a decision from all corners of Missouri’s 1st district, our communities have embraced a bold, fearless vision of real change where regular everyday people like us can feel it,” Bush said.

Bush will face Republican Anthony Rogers in November.

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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