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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.

11 Questions That Could Shape Missouri’s Election

Voters fill out their ballots for Missouri’s primary election at Old Bonhomme Elementary School in Olivette on Tuesday morning. Aug. 4, 2020
Kayla Drake
/
St. Louis Public Radio
Voters fill out their ballots for Missouri’s primary election at Old Bonhomme Elementary School in Olivette during the August 2020 primary election.

The entire world is anxiously awaiting the results of the contest between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. But there’s more to Tuesday’s election than just the presidential race, especially in Missouri.

Tuesday will determine whether Republicans keep control of the executive branch or cede it back to Democrats. It will show whether Trump malaise hit hard enough to turn historically Republican parts of the state blue.

There’s a lot at stake. So here are some questions about what will affect the outcome.

President Donald Trump is not expected to beat former Vice-President Joe Biden in Missouri by as much as he lead Hillary Clinton in 2016. And that could have a big impact on Republican chances in key contests.
Carolina Hidalgo
If President Donald Trump beats former Vice President Joe Biden in Missouri by less than he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016, it could have a big impact on Republican chances in key contests.

1. What will be the margin of the Trump-Biden presidential contest?

Just four years ago, Trump won Missouri by such a large margin that he helped other Republicans like Eric Greitens and Roy Blunt prevail in expensive statewide races. But Trump’s increasing unpopularity in some suburbs all but guarantees that he won’t win the state by nearly 19 percentage points again.

A Biden win in Missouri is not likely for several reasons, including that he hasn’t invested the money and staffing needed to win the state. But if Biden loses by a relatively small margin, that result could reverberate down the ballot.

And if Biden does manage to win Missouri’s 10 electoral votes? Well, that would mean that Trump is headed for a landslide defeat equivalent to Jimmy Carter’s 1980 reelection campaign.

Gov. Mike Parson addressed supporters at a campaign stop Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, at Arnold City Park in Jefferson County. The Bolivar, Missouri, Republican is running to retain his seat as governor against Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat.
David Kovaluk
Gov. Mike Parson addressed supporters at a campaign stop Tuesday in Arnold a week ahead of Election Day. Parson, a Republican, is running to retain his seat as governor against Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat.

2. Can Parson outrun Trump?

One rule of thumb in Missouri politics is that when the result of the presidential contest is close, it often benefits the Democrat running for governor. In fact, Democrats have won five out of the six gubernatorial races that featured a Republican nominee either losing the state or winning by less than 10 points.

But Gov. Mike Parson himself noted on a recent episode of St. Louis Public Radio’s Politically Speaking that he’s been polling better than Trump in a number of public opinion surveys. Whether Parson actually outruns the GOP presidential nominee will depend on whether he can drum up a lot of votes in the state’s rural and exurban counties, as well as former Democratic strongholds such as Jefferson and Buchanan counties.

galloway 2
David Kovlauk
Galloway has made both health care policy and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic a central aspect of her campaign against Gov. Mike Parson.

3. Will Galloway broaden her party’s geographic coalition?

Despite Missouri’s lurch to the right, Nicole Galloway has done a lot to make Missouri’s gubernatorial contest one of the few competitive contests of its kind in the nation. She’s raised millions in donations and received support from the Democratic Governors Association.

But ultimately, all the financial and organizational prowess won’t matter unless Galloway can get votes beyond St. Louis, St. Louis County and Kansas City. She’ll also need to increase Democratic support in more conservative suburbs, such as St. Charles and Jefferson counties, as well as hold down Parson’s margins in rural areas.

If she cannot piece together that urban-suburban-rural coalition that propelled people like Jay Nixon and Claire McCaskill to statewide victories, then even a blowout win in St. Louis County may not be enough to get her into the governor’s mansion.

Missouri-Downballot-races.jpg
David Kovaluk
Missouri's down-ballot statewide contests include (clockwise from top left, Democrats in blue, Republicans in red) Alissia Canady-Mike Kehoe for lieutenant governor, Vicki Englund-Scott Fitzpatrick for treasurer, Scott Finneran-Eric Schmitt for attorney general, and Yinka Faleti-Jay Ashcroft for secretary of state.

4. How will the Democratic down-ballot ticket fare?

Historically, it's been difficult to defeat a down-ballot incumbent statewide official. Since 2000, the only statewide official to lose office was Auditor Susan Montee in 2010.

But there’s some nuance to this year’s races for lieutenant governor, attorney general and treasurer: None of the current officeholders was actually elected to their posts, but rather were appointed by Parson to fill vacancies. That means people like Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe and Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick are effectively introducing themselves to a statewide electorate. Attorney General Eric Schmitt won a bid for state treasurer in 2016.

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft is running for the same office that he won in 2016. But it should be noted that his opponent, Democrat Yinka Faleti, has been able to raise more money than Ashcroft this election. So if any Democrats win on Tuesday for offices other than governor, it will be a sign that the Trump backlash was deeper than expected.

A statue of former U.S. House Speaker Champ Clark stands before the Pike County Courthouse. Democrats like Clark controlled most of northeast Missouri's offices for decades. Now, the GOP rules the roost.
File photo I Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
Republicans have made huge gains in historically Democratic rural areas, such as Pike County in northeast Missouri.

5. Will rural Missouri once again deliver for Republicans?

One of the reasons why Republicans have become dominant in Missouri is that they’ve gained so much ground in rural parts of the state. That includes places that were Democratic strongholds for generations, such as northeastern and southeastern Missouri.

There is no indication that Missouri Democrats will gain any meaningful legislative ground in outstate Missouri. But getting votes outside the state’s metro areas and Columbia is important, since the math doesn’t really work for statewide Democrats if Republicans are getting 70%-80% of the vote in rural counties.

If Missouri Democrats are going to become a statewide party again, they need to gain back some ground in rural Missouri. And while that may not happen overnight, it’s not out of the question that a decline in enthusiasm for Trump could plant the seeds for the party’s comeback.

Missouri State Senator Jill Schupp films a campaign commercial in Creve Coeur, Missouri on Sunday, October 18, 2020. Schupp is running against Republican Ann Wagner, who has served Missouri's 2nd congressional district since 2013. Wagner previously was the United States Ambassador to Luxembourg from 2005 to 2009.
Bill Greenblatt
Missouri State Sen. Jill Schupp films a campaign commercial in Creve Coeur earlier this month. Schupp is running against Republican Ann Wagner, who has represented Missouri's 2nd Congressional District since 2013.

6. Could St. Louis County see a Democratic landslide?

One of the variables that could have a big impact on the Galloway-Parson race, as well as some other contests, is just how much Biden wins St. Louis County by.

Even though Missouri’s most populous county has long ago shed its distinction of being politically competitive, Democrats have not won overwhelming victories there. For instance, Hillary Clinton only got 55% of St. Louis County’s vote in 2016. And some GOP statewide contenders managed to get close to 45% of the vote.

But if Biden is able to win more than 60% of St. Louis County’s vote, which has not happened at any point in recent history, the former vice president could assist in Democratic victories. In fact, if Democratic state Sen. Jill Schupp is able to win by a decisive margin in St. Louis County, then it may be enough to outflank GOP Rep. Ann Wagner’s 2nd Congressional District returns in Republican-leaning St. Charles and Jefferson counties.

Missouri Congresswoman Ann Wagner endorses fellow Republican Mike Parson for governor on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, at Arnold City Park in Arnold. Wagner faces Democrat Jill Schupp in the 2nd Congressional District race on Election Day.
David Kovaluk
U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner endorses fellow Republican Mike Parson for governor on Tuesday at Arnold City Park in Arnold. Wagner faces Democrat Jill Schupp in the 2nd Congressional District race.

7. Can Republicans hold the line in St. Charles County?

Missouri Democrats have been trying to gain significant ground in fast-growing St. Charles County for years, only to be thwarted time and time again by Republican candidates.

But this year, St. Charles County is taking on a lot of importance, and not just in the Schupp-Wagner race. Galloway will likely need to make significant inroads among voters there if she wants to beat Parson, especially since Jefferson County looks more and more unlikely to be a source of Democratic votes. And state House Democrats are angling to gain a seat or two in the county.

One big indicator of how Missouri Democrats are doing could be the result of the 23rd Senate District race between GOP Sen. Bill Eigel and Democratic challenger Richard Orr. If Orr can close his margins significantly compared to his nearly 20-point loss from 2016, it could be a clear signal that Democratic efforts have paid off.

Rep. Crystal Quade and House Democrats speak to news reporters following the first day of the Missouri legislative session on Wednesday in Jefferson City.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
House Minority Leader Crystal Quade speaks at a press conference in January. Quade is trying help her fellow Democrats break the GOP supermajority in the Missouri House.

8. Can Democrats crack the GOP’s veto-proof majorities?

Democrats need to win three key state Senate races to break the GOP’s veto-proof majority. That could have big implications for congressional redistricting and, if Galloway wins, whether some Republican initiatives can make it into law.

House Democrats are seeking to gain at least eight seats to break the GOP supermajority in the chamber. It’s difficult to predict whether that will happen, since House races tend to be much more unpredictable than Senate contests. But in particular, House Democrats are bullish about gaining ground in the Kansas City suburbs, Springfield, Boone County, St. Charles County and perhaps even western St. Louis County.

Members of the Missouri House throw paper in the air on May 17, 2019, to celebrate the end of the legislative session.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri House members toss paper on the last day of the 2019 legislative session. Voters will decide whether to retain the Clean Missouri redistricting system for state legislative districts.

9. Will money and organization beat Amendment 3?

Opponents of Amendment 3, which would substantially change Missouri’s state legislative redistricting process, appear to be doing all the right things. They’ve raised a ton of money to run ads lambasting the constitutional amendment and have gotten both Democrats and Republicans to speak out against the measure.

Usually, that would be more than enough to defeat a ballot initiative in Missouri. But there’s reasons for Amendment 3 detractors to be vigilant, since a ballot summary that appeals court judges crafted lists marginal changes to lobbyist gift and campaign donation restrictions before a summary of the redistricting changes. And some opponents say the summary is confusing and misleading.

llinois’ 13th Congressional District race, U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville and Betsy Dirksen Londrigan Democrat .
llinois’ 13th Congressional District race features Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville and Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, a Democrat.
llinois’ 13th Congressional District race features Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, and Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, a Democrat.

10. Will Democrats finally prevail in a key southern Illinois contest?

Illinois is one of the few states where Democrats hold all the cards over redistricting. And that power definitely paid off in the Chicago suburbs, as the party won seats that were previously unreachable thanks to the Trump backlash.

But things haven’t gone as well for Democrats in southern Illinois, where Trump is clearly not as unpopular as in the rest of the state. National Democrats have thrown in the towel in trying to unseat U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, who has been one of the few bright spots for the state GOP. And U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis has continuously foiled stout Democratic efforts to unseat him, most recently in 2018, when he narrowly beat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan.

Dirksen Londrigan is back in 2020 for a rematch and is receiving the national money and organizational support needed to compete.

election_voting_stock_02.JPG
File Photo / Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis voters will decide four ballot initiatives about issues of residency requirements for most city employees (Proposition 1), adopting open primary elections (Proposition D), passing an early childhood education tax (Proposition R) and changing how fiber network providers are taxed (Proposition T).

11. How will St. Louis ballot items fare?

Since St. Louis is heavily Democratic, there’s little suspense about the outcome of citywide or state legislative races. But there is uncertainty about a slew of ballot items that could substantially alter St. Louis’ city government and political culture.

Voters will decide whether to get rid of the residency requirement for most city workers. They’ll also choose whether to back a property tax hike to increase money for early childhood education. And they’ll decide whether to embrace a new election system eliminating partisan primaries and instead allowing voters to choose more than one candidate.

That may have a big impact on the mayoral race in 2021. Since Proposition D allows voters to pick multiple candidates to compete in an April runoff election, it could drastically affect who will challenge St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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