Missouri’s Few Competitive Senate Races Create High Stakes
Missouri only has a handful of state Senate races that are widely seen as competitive on Nov. 3.
But the results from these contests could have implications for congressional redistricting and the chamber’s future leadership.
The state’s political parties have spent a lot of money in three particular races: the 15th District in St. Louis County between GOP Sen. Andrew Koenig and Democratic state Rep. Deb Lavender; the 1st District in St. Louis County between Democratic state Rep. Doug Beck and Republican David Lenihan; and the 19th District in Boone and Cooper counties between Republican Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden and former Democratic state Rep. Judy Baker.
If Democrats are able to win those three contests, Republicans would no longer have a veto-proof majority in the chamber. And that could make a big difference if Democratic state Auditor Nicole Galloway upends Republican Gov. Mike Parson. Under that scenario, Democratic senators would need to join with Republicans to override Galloway’s objections.
One particularly important issue where a veto-proof majority could matter, especially if Galloway is governor, is congressional redistricting.
Lawmakers are slated to redraw Missouri’s congressional districts next year, and there could be a push to include most or all of St. Charles County in one congressional district. Currently, the county is split between 2nd District Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, and 3rd District Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth.
“If drawn into the same district, St. Charles County alone could represent a majority of a United States congressional district,” said Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring. “I think there has definitely been a move to put all of St. Charles in the same district. This might finally be the year that it happens. And that makes sense, because being part of the largest stronghold in the state, you want St. Charles to have that voice if you’re a Republican.”
Placing St. Charles County in one congressional district could have broader implications than just increasing that county’s political clout. Since St. Charles County is much more conservative than St. Louis County, putting the whole county in, say, the 2nd Congressional District could make it much harder for Democrats to win. And it could imperil Democratic Sen. Jill Schupp’s reelection chances if she defeats Wagner this year.
That’s why Democrats, like Eigel’s opponent Bill Orr, want to elect Galloway and enough Democrats to eliminate the GOP supermajority.
“I would not be in favor of a move like that,” Orr said of putting St. Charles County in one congressional district. “It’s not necessary. And it smacks of the gerrymandering that we’re trying to eliminate throughout the state. There’s no convincing reason this would be of any benefit. It would actually diminish the people with the same background and cultural outlooks that are now somewhat contiguous.”
In the event of a Parson victory or if Koenig and Rowden win, there could also be an effort to make U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver’s 5th District more Republican by placing some of Democratic-leaning Kansas City into other heavily Republican congressional districts. But that effort, which would likely spark bipartisan opposition, would be nearly impossible to pull off if Galloway wins and the Democrats squash the GOP Senate supermajority.
Eyes on mid-Missouri
There are bigger implications to the Rowden-Baker contest than just how congressional maps will shake out.
On the surface, Rowden has structural advantages in the race. He’s raised far more money than Baker and resides in a district that includes heavily Republican Cooper County. But many Republicans fear that Rowden may lose because Boone County may vote decisively for Joe Biden. And Baker has strong name recognition from her tenure as a state lawmaker and campaign experience from running in congressional and statewide contests.
“In a year that Donald Trump loses 10 to 15 points [compared to 2016], we’ve got a real fight on our hands there,” Eigel said.
Rowden is the second most powerful Republican senator, behind Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz. And he will likely have an advantage of becoming pro tem when Schatz term-limits out of office in 2022. If Baker beats Rowden, there will be an internal scramble to replace him as majority leader among the various factions of the Senate Republicans.
That fight could pit Republicans who are close to the current GOP leadership against members of the Conservative Caucus who count Eigel as a member.
“I have to wonder in the event that we’re not successful in that district, we really don’t know what would happen in a possible leadership race,” Eigel said. “We don’t know who would take over. And honestly we don’t know how that person would guide the chamber through.”
Whether the Conservative Caucus has enough votes to elect one of its members to a high leadership post in the event of a Rowden loss, though, is not certain. Such a move will become even harder if Koenig, a Conservative Caucus member, loses to Lavender.
And if Koenig and Lenihan both lose on Nov. 3, it will mark a grim milestone for the GOP: It will mean likely for the first time in decades that the party will not have a member who resides in St. Louis County.
Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum