It’s somewhat instinctual for Missouri political reporters to describe every election as decisive, critical or groundbreaking. And to be fair, it’s not an unnatural impulse – since every Show Me State election year for the past couple of decades has featured a competitive statewide, U.S. Senate or presidential contest.
This year, though, state Auditor Tom Schweich likely won’t lose to his Libertarian or Constitution Party opponents, and the Missouri House and Senate will remain firmly in Republican hands. And there's no U.S. Senate contest.
Of course, this low-stakes election cycle won’t be without impact -- especially in St. Louis County where either Councilman Steve Stenger, the Democrat, or state Rep. Rick Stream, the Republican, will lead a change in county government for the first time in more than a decade.
So, here are six things to look after all the votes are counted on Tuesday night – besides whether Schweich can outflank his minor-party opponents by 60 percent of the vote or 70 percent of the vote.
Can Carpenter cobble together a southwest and north side coalition to outflank Florida?
With pretty much every other local election decided in the Democratic primary, voters in the city of St. Louis have only one competitive election – the recorder of deeds race between Democrat Sharon Carpenter and independent incumbent Jennifer Florida.
On paper, Florida should have an edge. She has more money, big-name endorsements and the relative power of incumbency. It also doesn’t hurt her that Carpenter – the former recorder of deeds – had to resign from her post after a nepotism scandal.
But Carpenter may have a geographical advantage: If she can win big in her largely white home base of southwest St. Louis and replicate her primary sweep of heavily African-American north side wards, she may be back into office. After all, 34 years’ worth of recording deeds gave her plenty of time to build name recognition and political alliances – even if her actual office is largely administrative.
One wrinkle: Will U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay’s last-minute of endorsement of Florida influence black voters on the north side?
Can Democratic House candidates stand their ground in St. Louis County?
Like St. Louis, most of St. Louis County’s Missouri House elections were decided in the August primary. But a smattering of potentially competitive races could be important for the Democrats.
Two Democratic incumbents – Reps. Vicki Englund, D-St. Louis County, and Bill Otto, D-St. Charles – are trying to hold on to their districts, which are evenly split between the two parties. Democrat Deb Lavender is trying to capture the House seat in Kirkwood that’s being vacated by Stream, while former Rep. Tracy McCreery is squaring off against Republican Raymond Chandler for an open seat in central St. Louis County.
Victories by Englund, Otto, Lavender and McCreery could set Democrats up better in 2016 when turnout will be higher because of a presidential election. According to Englund, stopping Republicans from gaining more ground could motivate the party’s supporters.
“We’ve taken a beating over the last few years as we’ve lost our numbers in the House. And just the thought of it possibly getting worse holds us back at times,” Englund said. “When we show a gain this time, it will be OK. The bleeding has stopped; we can move forward. And I don’t think we can move forward until we have that first glimmer of hope.”
Will Schupp’s ads spur socially liberal voters to turn out?
In the 24th state Senate district in central St. Louis County, state Rep. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, is running against Republican attorney Jay Ashcroft for an open seat. The incumbent, John Lamping, R-Ladue, decided not to run again.
Unlike other Democratic candidates, Schupp isn’t shying away from emphasizing her support of abortion rights – as evidenced in a hard-hitting television ad that accuses Ashcroft of having anti-abortion views similar to former U.S. Rep. Todd Akin. It comes as both political parties are spending huge amounts of money to take the seat.
Schupp’s ad could be an attempt to spur turnout in areas of the district with moderate to liberal voters, such as Olivette, Creve Coeur and Ladue. Conversely, it risks alienating socially conservative residents in heavily Catholic towns like Maryland Heights or St. Ann.
Tuesday’s vote will determine whether Schupp’s strategy of emphasizing her Democratic bona fides can help her win a highly competitive state Senate election.
Did Roorda’s shift to the right help him outflank Wieland?
In some ways, state Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, has taken the opposite approach, compared to Schupp, in his state Senate race against state Rep. Paul Wieland, R-Imperial.
Since returning to the Missouri House after a two-year hiatus, Roorda joined with Republicans to vote on a several controversial bills. For instance: He voted to override a bill mandating a 72-hour waiting period for abortions, even though some leaders of his party – such as U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. – used the bill to castigate the GOP as extreme.
He also upset plenty of African-American officials for helping raise to money for Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, who shot 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9.
If Roorda can outflank Wieland, he may break a recent trend among state Senate candidates. After all, Democratic state Senate candidates who recently tried to out-conservative their Republican opponents – including former Reps. Terry Swinger, D-Caruthersville, and Joe Fallert, D-Ste. Genevieve – lost by fairly decisive margins.
Will Gov. Pat Quinn sink U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart?
Illinois’ election campaign has been a downright madhouse – especially the nasty contest between Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican nominee Bruce Rauner.
Quinn may follow imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s tradition of winning re-election with dismal approval ratings, especially since Rauner’s vast wealth turned out to be an easy target in television ads. But Quinn probably won’t do that well in downstate Illinois, which includes the Metro East.
If that happens, it could spell trouble for U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, the Belleville Democrat facing off against state Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, in one of the most competitive congressional elections in the country. Most of the 12th congressional district includes largely rural counties where Quinn may stumble badly.
Although Republicans are expected to keep control of the U.S. House, Bost's victory would be significant. The GOP hasn’t represented the area in generations, and Bost may be able to hold on to the seat when turnout goes up in 2016 during a presidential contest.
Is St. Louis County too Democratic for a Republican to win county executive?
When Stenger stomped St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley in August’s Democratic primary, the numbers didn’t look particularly encouraging for Stream.
Stenger managed to win everywhere with the exception of African-American areas of north St. Louis County, an area that voted heavily for Dooley. Stream got fewer votes than Dooley – which is never an encouraging sign going into a general election.
But the political ground may have shifted. While Stenger’s alliance with St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch was useful during the primary, it turned out to be a liability among some African-American voters. A group of black political leaders took the unusual step of endorsing Stream and promised to turn out their towns for the Kirkwood Republican.
Even if Stream won some traditionally Democratic areas as well as traditionally Republican strongholds in western St. Louis County, he is still not guaranteed victory.
That’s because Stenger may be able to piece together a geographical coalition including his home base in south St. Louis County and the central corridor. It’s also possible that Stenger could do well enough in north St. Louis County, especially if some African-Americans are reluctant to vote for a Republican or organized labor can turn out cities like Florissant or Hazelwood.
Whatever happens, the stakes are high for the county executive’s contest. Not only will the winner have broad power to reconstruct county government once Dooley leaves, but he’ll be expected to make some big changes in response to Brown’s death.
On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics.
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