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Government, Politics & Issues
On the Trail, an occasional column by St. Louis Public Radio political reporter Jason Rosenbaum, takes an analytical look at politics and policy across Missouri.

‘Black Girl Magic’ Defines Unpredictable Missouri Primary Results

cori bush arch
Jason Rosenbaum
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Cori Bush, the Democratic nominee for Missouri's 1st Congressional District, stands near the Gateway Arch on Wednesday. Bush won a landmark primary victory Tuesday against U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay.

After easily defeating a primary challenge on Tuesday, St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones chose to reflect on one of the unmistakable themes of the 2020 Missouri primary: Black women prevailing in bruising, and often personal, elections.

For Jones, Tuesday was about “a wave of Black girl magic that’s hit Missouri.”

She pointed to Democratic primary wins by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, Missouri lieutenant governor nominee Alissa Canady and, of course, 1st Congressional District nominee Cori Bush. It was a message she repeated on Wednesday alongside Gardner and Bush before the Gateway Arch.

“If you solve the problems of a Black woman, you solve everybody’s problems,” Jones said.

Jones’ sentiments about the ascendancy of Black female power in Missouri weave into some of the storylines that predated Tuesday’s elections. To break down the results a bit further, here are the answers to questions I posed late last week about the primary election.

Can Cori Bush persuade Black voters to go against Lacy Clay?
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
"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."

Yes.

Two years ago, Clay won by a huge margin in the St. Louis County portion of the 1st Congressional District — which primarily consists of largely Black townships. While the township numbers weren’t available Wednesday, Clay only won St. Louis County by about 4 percentage points, which means Bush was able to add a significant amount of Black support to her tally.

The ward-by-ward city numbers answer the question much more definitively. After losing badly to Clay in largely Black wards two years ago, Bush significantly increased her support in north St. Louis — and also in south St. Louis wards with large African American populations. She also was able to win big in white and integrated wards with high turnouts on Tuesday, which led to a nearly 10-point margin of victory in the city that was impossible for Clay to overcome.

The reasons behind this improvement are pretty obvious: Bush ran a disciplined, well-funded campaign with sharp advertisements highlighting her role in the protest movement that followed Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson. On Wednesday, she also pointed to the fact that she had more name recognition from when she ran two years ago, adding “it wasn’t as if Black people were saying we don’t like you Cori — it’s that they didn’t know I was there.”

And it stands to reason that some Black voters may have been turned off by Clay’s attacks, including a negative mailer that highlighted how Bush had been evicted. If anything, those missives allowed some Black working-class women voters to relate to Bush’s struggles.

Bush’s victory is a landmark moment in St. Louis political history. Not only did she put an end to a political dynasty that lasted for more than five decades, but her victory marks the first time a key participant in the Ferguson protests will be heading to Congress. It’s a win that’s more than just a victory in the political turf war between progressive insurgents and incumbent congresspeople — it’s a shift that likely will be felt in St. Louis for years to come.

Will an avalanche of criticism from Republicans help Kim Gardner’s re-election campaign?
bush gardner
Jason Rosenbaum / St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, right, converses with Bush before a Wednesday press conference. Gardner won a landslide victory over fellow Democrat Mary Pat Carl, even as Republicans like Gov. Mike Parson and U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley were harshly criticizing her for charging Mark and Patricia McCloskey for unlawful use of a weapon.

Gardner’s roughly 20 percentage-point victory makes a convincing case that the GOP attacks from leaders like Gov. Mike Parson and U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley on her record and decision-making backfired.

The city’s first Black circuit attorney managed to win some largely African American wards on Tuesday with over 90% of the vote. And she won some largely white wards, like the 8th and 15th, with more than 60% of the vote. That suggested that when people like Parson and Hawley chastised Gardner for charging two attorneys for brandishing weapons at protesters, it may have energized white progressives to re-elect Gardner. And that left Gardner opponent Mary Pat Carl with no path to victory, even with sizable margins in some south St. Louis wards.

“If you’re truly about justice and you’re fighting for what’s right, in spite of all of the criticism, people want you to stand up and fight,” Gardner said on Wednesday.

The GOP attacks on Gardner may not be finished. Some lawmakers have talked about passing what’s known as "concurrent jurisdiction" during the upcoming special session on violent crime. That would allow the attorney general to intervene in certain city cases, like homicides.

Will two incumbent county councilwomen keep their jobs?
kelli dunaway
David Kovaluk / St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Councilwoman Kelli Dunaway, D-Chesterfield, easily won her race on Tuesday. But Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray, D-Black Jack, lost to Shalonda Webb.

This was a split decision, but the outcome still involved women prevailing.

Shalonda Webb ended up unseating Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray, D-Black Jack, to represent the north St. Louis County-based 4th District. Webb, who is the wife of former state Rep. Steve Webb, had the endorsements of key figures in north St. Louis County politics — including outgoing Democratic Sen. Gina Walsh and Ferguson Mayor Ella Jones.

Since Walton Gray was allied with County Executive Sam Page, Webb’s likely elevation to the council could complicate efforts to pass some elements of the Democratic chief executive’s agenda.

Councilwoman Kelli Dunaway was far more successful in her race against Creve Coeur Mayor Barry Glantz. In a contest that Dunaway herself said was partly a referendum on Page, the Chesterfield Democrat won by nearly 50 percentage points. And assuming that Dunaway and Webb win in heavily Democratic districts in November, the St. Louis County Council will maintain its female majority in 2021.

Who will succeed Jamilah Nasheed in the Missouri Senate?
State Rep. Steve Roberts, D-St. Louis, won a hotly contested race for the Missouri Senate to represent a portion of the city of St. Louis.
Tim Bommel / House Communications
State Rep. Steve Roberts, D-St. Louis, won a hotly contested race for the Missouri Senate to represent a portion of the city of St. Louis.

One race where female candidates failed to find success was in Missouri’s 5th Senate District, where state Rep. Steve Roberts narrowly prevailed over Alderwoman Megan Green and Michelle Sherod.

Both Roberts and Green spent a lot of money on canvassing and phone banking, two crucial ways of getting the vote out in the St. Louis-based Senate district. Roberts ended up winning many of the district’s Black wards, while Green’s margins of victory in either white or integrated wards weren’t enough to close the gap.

But Black women did win two open Senate races: Angela Mosley narrowly bested state Rep. Tommie Pierson in the north St. Louis County-based 13th District. Mosley is the daughter of former state Rep. Elbert Walton and the sister of Walton Gray. And her win marks a milestone for the Walton family, which has been trying to capture the 13th District seat for over a decade.

And in Kansas City, state Rep. Barbara Washington easily prevailed in the 9th District Senate race. Both Roberts and Washington are attorneys, so they’ll bring legal firepower to the Democratic caucus.

How will Conservative Caucus candidates fare?
Sen. Bill Eigel easily won the GOP nomination for a second term. He'll face Democrat Richard Orr in November.
Carolina Hidalgo / St. Louis Public Radio
Sen. Bill Eigel easily won the GOP nomination for a second term. He'll face Democrat Richard Orr in November.

Pretty well.

The group of GOP senators that tends to chafe against Republican leadership will likely expand next year, thanks to wins by Rick Brattin and Mike Moon in western Missouri Senate races. And Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, won a landslide victory in the GOP primary — even as some of his adversaries spent big to try to defeat his bid for a second term.

Some of the other results, though, weren’t as fruitful. Elaine Gannon, Jason Bean and Karla Eslinger are unlikely to join the Senate's Conservative Caucus, even though they will all likely advocate for right-of-center issues. And Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, has clashed with some members of the Conservative Caucus in the past over creating a prescription drug monitoring program.

With three women poised to join the Senate Republican caucus next year, Tuesday’s results showed that female electoral wins weren’t just relegated to Democrats.

How will voters react to St. Louis County Executive Sam Page’s coronavirus response?
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page speaks with TV reporters early Tuesday morning, after voting at the First Church of Christ Scientist in Creve Coeur.
Kayla Drake / St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page speaks with TV reporters early Tuesday morning, after voting at the First Church of Christ Scientist in Creve Coeur.

Given that Page won fairly comfortably, it would be fair to say they reacted favorably enough for the Democrat to win.

Despite attacks from St. Louis County Assessor Jake Zimmerman and retired businessman Mark Mantovani on his COVID-19 response, Page won the Democratic nomination by about 9 percentage points. And since Democrats have become the dominant party in St. Louis County, Page will be favored to win against Republican Paul Berry III in November.

Yet with the coronavirus still very much a threat in St. Louis County, it’s not out of the question that Page may have to enact more restrictions on gatherings or businesses in the coming weeks. And if these measures prove to be unpopular with the general public, Berry’s candidacy could get a boost.

What will Black voters do in the St. Louis County executive’s contest?
Voters fill out their ballots on Tuesday morning at Old Bonhomme Elementary School in Olivette.
Kayla Drake / St. Louis Public Radio
Voters fill out their ballots on Tuesday morning at Old Bonhomme Elementary School in Olivette.

Many Black elected officials chose to endorse either Zimmerman or Mantovani. So that means Mantovani and Zimmerman effectively split the Black vote, or Page did better in largely African American areas of the county than people expected.

Whatever the result, opposition from Black voters to Page wasn’t enough to deprive him of another two years in office.

Could Republican voters affect the outcome of the county executive race?
Republicans often cross over into Democratic primaries in St. Louis and St. Louis County, especially since those places are less hospitable to the GOP.
Kayla Drake / St. Louis Public Radio
Republicans often cross over into Democratic primaries in St. Louis and St. Louis County, especially since those places are less hospitable to the GOP.

They did not, but some clearly tried.

Some prominent GOP personalities and elected officials who were upset with how Page handled the COVID-19 response openly called on Republicans to take a Democratic ballot and vote for Mantovani. Crossover voting like this is fairly routine in Missouri, especially in places like St. Louis, where one party typically wins countywide elections.

Mantovani’s loss showed there was not enough crossover voting to close the gap with Page. But it is possible that some Republicans were pulling Democratic ballots. In some western and southern St. Louis County state House districts, where many St. Louis County Republicans live, Democratic candidates got more votes.

That suggests one of two scenarios: Either those historically Republican areas are becoming more Democratic, or usually GOP voters decided to cross over.

Can a well-funded ballot item accomplish Missouri Democrats’ biggest policy goal?
Medicaid Expansion yes/no 2020 august primary election
Nat Thomas

Yes.

Proponents of the Medicaid expansion amendment dramatically outspent opponents, allowing "Yes on 2" television ads to go basically unchallenged over the airwaves. That was probably a big reason why Amendment 2 passed by about 6 percentage points — thanks to huge margins of victories in St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia, as well as wins in historically GOP Greene and St. Charles counties.

But the fact that Amendment 2 failed pretty soundly in rural counties suggests that a better-funded campaign could have defeated Medicaid expansion. If Republicans who control the Legislature want to make substantial changes to the expansion, they would likely need to go back to the voters — which will be difficult to accomplish.

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