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Government, Politics & Issues

Cori Bush Becomes First Black Congresswoman In Missouri History

Cori Bush addresses supporters though tears Tuesday night, Nov. 3, 2020, after the results of her 1st Congressional District race became final. Bush will be the first Black woman to represent Missouri in Congress.
Theo R. Welling
/
Special to St. Louis Public Radio
Cori Bush, Democratic nominee for Missouri's 1st Congressional District, addresses reporters early Tuesday morning outside her polling site at Gambrinus Hall in south St. Louis.

Democrat Cori Bush, a nurse and political activist from Florissant, on Tuesday became the first Black woman from Missouri ever elected to Congress.

Unlike her August primary contest against longtime 1st District incumbent Lacy Clay, Bush’s general election against Republican Anthony Rogers and Libertarian Alex Furman was never in doubt. The district, which takes in all of St. Louis and portions of St. Louis County, is the most Democratic congressional district in the state. The Associated Press called the race shortly after the polls closed at 7 p.m.

“It’s unbelievable,” Bush told St. Louis Public Radio after speaking with voters in Clayton. “It’s amazing. But it’s also sad. Because it’s 2020 and I’ll be the first woman in the district and the first Black congresswoman ever for the state. But I wouldn’t change this moment to be able to be here.”

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The win marks the end of Bush’s nearly four-year effort to be elected to office. After gaining notoriety as an activist after Michael Brown’s shooting death in Ferguson, Bush engaged in a long-shot campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2016 against eventual Democratic nominee Jason Kander.

Her 2018 campaign against Clay gained attention after Bush received the backing of U.S. Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. But Clay’s historical strength in Black portions of the 1st District led to a comfortable victory. And after Claire McCaskill’s defeat in the U.S. Senate race, Clay was arguably the most powerful Missouri Democrat left in office.

But 2020 was different. Bush, who has been closely aligned with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders for years, emerged with a better-funded and better-organized campaign. She received backing from outside groups that supported Democrats challenging longtime incumbents from the left. And when the votes were counted, Bush prevailed thanks to a stout margin of victory in St. Louis and a much better performance in Black portions of the district.

Cori Bush dances with supporters celebrating her 1st Congressional District win Tuesday night, Nov. 3, 2020, outside her campaign headquarters in Northwoods in north St. Louis County.
Theo R. Welling
Cori Bush dances with supporters celebrating her 1st Congressional District win Tuesday night, outside her campaign headquarters in Northwoods in north St. Louis County.

“It’s about the everyday person in St. Louis. It’s about the child that doesn’t have any parents,” Bush said. “It’s about the store clerk that doesn’t have health care. It’s people who are on the regular mindset of people and making sure their needs are met. That thinking. Not who has a title or a big name or all of that. Those days are about to be over.”

When she’s sworn in in January, Bush will join a number of progressives who may chafe at her party’s leadership. She’s been a vocal supporter of Medicare For All and the Green New Deal. And she’s called for a universal basic income as a way to deal with the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cori Bush waits in line to cast her ballot at early Tuesday morning at Gambrinus Hall in south St. Louis. Tuesday, November 3, 2020.
Theo Welling
Cori Bush waits in line to cast her ballot at early Tuesday morning at Gambrinus Hall in south St. Louis.

As the first activist from the Ferguson protest movement to be elected to Congress, Bush is hoping to press for more measures to hold police officers accountable when they commit wrongdoing.

Even before her trip to D.C. was made official on Tuesday, some Republicans had taken notice of Bush.

Gov. Mike Parson and his allies often sharply criticized some of Bush’s statements, arguing that since his gubernatorial opponent, Nicole Galloway, made favorable statements about Bush that she must support her political views. That may be a sign that Missouri Republicans may see Bush as a foil against other Democrats to contend that they’re too liberal for the state.

When asked about the GOP criticism toward her, Bush started jumping up and down similar to how a boxer gets pumped up before facing her opponent.

“The reality is they’re using that because they’re all trying to be friends with Donald Trump,” Bush said. “They’re trying to get that visibility… because I’m a Black Lives Matter activist. That’s the whole point. Is there anybody else that they’re doing this to? No. They’re doing this to protesters, to activists.”

Democratic nominee for Missouri's 1st congressional district, Cori Bush, votes at Gambrinus Hall in South St. Louis on Election Day Tuesday, November 3, 2020.
Theo R. Welling
Bush casts her vote Tuesday morning at Gambrinus Hall in south St. Louis.

Bush said that the Republican slings and arrows don’t phase her, adding: “You’re talking about the woman … that dealt with the real bullets and the rubber bullets.”

“The words that you used? I’ve been called way much worse,” Bush said, with a laugh. “And it didn’t touch me.”

Whether that strategy actually means anything to Bush’s future political prospects is unclear. While the 1st District is not expected to change radically during the redistricting process, Bush may have to fend off a challenge from her fellow Democrats in 2022.

But Bush will likely have ample financial resources thanks to her national alignment with progressive political figures like Ocasio-Cortez and likely incoming U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York. And she’ll start off in 2022 with a firm base of support of south St. Louis and St. Louis County’s central corridor.

“This is St. Louis’ day,” Bush said. “This is not about Cori. This is about us. And hopefully, all across the country they’ll see that regular people that are nurses, postal workers can run for any elected offices and take care of the people.”

Cori Bush and Michael Brown Sr. (left) celebrate her 1st Congressional District win Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.
Theo R. Welling
Bush and Michael Brown Sr. (left) celebrate her 1st Congressional District win Tuesday night. Bush is the first activist from the Ferguson protest movement to be elected to Congress.

Missouri Congressional results

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Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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