Missouri Democrats took a beating on Tuesday in contests for the Missouri General Assembly, losing even more ground in the Missouri House and Senate — including a hotly-contested race for a vacant Jefferson County Senate seat.
A bright spot for Democrats was in St. Louis County, where State Rep. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, narrowly won a hard-fought contest for the 24th District Senate seat.
Going into the election, the Republicans already controlled the state legislature. Now they have strengthened that dominance. When the 34-member state Senate reconvenes in 2015, it now will have 25 Republican members — two more than needed to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto. In the 163-member House, the Republican majority will be adding seven members for a total of 117.
With most of the ballots counted, Schupp had about 50 percent of the vote compared to 47 percent for Ashcroft. Libertarian Jim Higgins received the rest.
"This was a campaign of the heart. And of the soul," Schupp said in her victory speech. "And thank you to each and every one of you."
The race for the 24th District — which includes Creve Coeur, Town and Country, Olivette, Maryland Heights and Chesterfield — became one of the most expensive in the state. Both of the state’s political parties funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race.
Schupp raised hundreds of thousands of dollars fairly quickly, a sure sign she was a viable candidate. She also received enthusiastic support from high-level Democratic officials, including U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and Attorney General Chris Koster.
"This race has been able collaborative leadership," Schupp said. "And we rejected partisan politics and cynicism. And you sent a strong message tonight to Republicans in Jefferson City that the era of special interests controlling the legislature at the expense of the middle class has to come to an end."
Ashcroft managed to close the funding gap fairly quickly after he won a three-way Republican primary. He then released hard-hitting ads attacking Schupp for her votes on legislation related to sex offenders; Schupp swiftly responded.
Schupp took the somewhat unusual step of attacking Ashcroft for opposing abortion rights, which few Democratic candidates for state Senate have done recently. She also criticized him for not taking definitive stands and sought to link Jay Ashcroft with his father, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.
"I could not have run harder," Jay Ashcroft said in his concession speech. "I had a wonderful group of volunteers. My wife was kicking me every day to tell me to hit more doors and to talk to more people."
"We ran a great race and she just ran a better one. So I want to congratulate her," he added. "I want to wish her the best of luck as she serves. And she’s my senator."
Republican Senate Wins
In other competitive state Senate contests. Republicans took previously held Democratic seats in Jefferson County and mid-Missouri and retained a GOP seat in the St. Joseph area.
In the contest for the Jefferson County-based 22nd District Senate seat, Rep. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial, decisively defeated state Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart.
The race was a rematch of sorts: Wieland defeated Roorda in 2010 in a race for a state House seat. The two then ran for and won different districts in 2012. The contest to replace former Sen. Ryan McKenna, D-Jefferson County, was also expensive — perhaps a testament to Jefferson County’s increasingly competitive nature.
Both candidates departed from their party’s orthodoxy. Wieland, for instance, stressed his opposition to legislation that’s hostile to organized labor unions — which has become an increasingly prominent focus among some Republicans. Like other Catholic lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, Wieland is opposed to the death penalty.
Roorda — the business manager for the St. Louis Police Officers Association — gained plenty of attention in recent weeks for helping raise money for Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown. He also stoked a bit of controversy in the final days of the race when $60,000 from Rex Sinquefield was funneled into his campaign, even as prominent Democrats criticized the retired financier for his role in Missouri politics.
Republican make big gains in Jefferson County House seats
The news for Democrats was even worse in races for the Missouri House, where the party was already mired at a historic low.
An initial count showed that Republicans were set to gain about seven seats in the Missouri House. That means incoming House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town and Country, will have far more members than needed to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto.
Republican fortunes were helped considerably in Jefferson County. The GOP captured six out of the seven seats in the increasingly Republican county; only Rep. Ben Harris, D-Hillsboro, survived.
Two incumbent Democrats — Reps. Michael Frame, D-Jefferson County, and T.J. McKenna, D-Jefferson County — lost re-election. Republicans Rob Vescovo and Dan Shaul captured open seats that were vacated by Roorda and Wieland.
In St. Louis County, incumbent Rep. Vicki Englund, D-Green Park, lost decisively to former Rep. Cloria Brown. Brown, a Republican, had faced Englund in three straight election cycles – losing in 2008 and 2012, but winning in 2010.
There were a few bright spots for Democrats: State Rep. Bill Otto, D-St. Charles, beat back a challenge from Republican Joe Corcia. And former Democratic Rep. Tracy McCreery, won a race for Schupp’s seat over Republican Raymond Chandler. Democrat Deb Lavender defeated Republican Gina Jaksetic in a Kirkwood-based district.
But things were grim for Democrats in other parts of the state. State Rep. John Wright – a Rocheport Democrat who was touted as a statewide candidate – lost his re-election bid to Republican Chuck Bayse. And with Republican Randy Pietzman winning in a Lincoln County-based district, the Democrats no longer have any seats in northeast Missouri for the first time in recent memory.
The poor legislative showing for the Democrats came even though McCaskill and Koster had sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars to help their legislative counterparts gain ground. They were still outspent by Republicans, who have had a financial advantage in Missouri legislative contests for years.
Schweich rips Sinquefield in victory speech
State Auditor Tom Schweich didn't have a Democratic opponent. He easily won a second term in office, defeating two minor party candidates with 73 percent of the vote.
In his victory speech at a Clayton restaurant, Schweich -- a possible gubernatorial candidate in 2016 -- decried what he saw as "corruption" both in government and politics. He referred to a recent New York Times article that raised questions about Attorney General Chris Koster's decision making and ties to lobbyists.
"A lot of people there are not looking out for you. They’re looking out for themselves," Schweich said. "We saw just in the past couple of weeks some startling revelations about a public official – our own attorney general – who appears to be selling his office to Five Hour Energy drink and other things like that. And we’ve seen candidates who are almost completely bought and paid for by one donor."
That appeared to be a reference to former House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, who recently took a $750,000 donation from retired financier Rex Sinquefield. While not mentioning him by name, Schweich derisively alluded to things Sinquefield has said and done over the past couple of years.
"We have people in our state who brag about having political armies of lawyers, lobbyists, consultants and PACs," Schweich said. "Groups that manipulate politicians like pawns on a chessboard. And if you do as they say, you’re rewarded with an endless spigot of cash. An endless spigot of cash. But if you don’t, they find primary opponents against you. They file lawsuits against you. They try to threaten you and try to intimidate you into doing things that you don’t want to do and things that you know are wrong."
"That we have to run against. We have to fight that all costs," he added. "Because it is a serious problem."
Schweich told reporters he hadn't made a decision yet on whether he'll run for governor in two years. But he said that decision may come sooner rather than later.
"We’re going to lay out the plans for my future. So we’ll be ready to make an announcement sometime soon," Schweich said. "But we’re not ready to announce yet."
"When I decide, it will be relatively soon. So I’m not one to wait," he added. "I’m a relatively quick acting person. So we’ll make a decision pretty soon on what we’re going to do."