Actions often speak louder than words.
The region’s two major candidates for St. Louis County executive – Democrat Steve Stenger and Republican Rick Stream – play down any talk that their campaigns target women voters.
Both say they’re seeking support from any and all voters, regardless of gender, age, race or other demographics.
But this weekend, Stream will be going door-to-door with the region’s top elected woman Republican –U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin.
And last week, Stenger’s fundraising event in Webster Groves featured the state’s only women – both Democrats -- who have served in the U.S. Senate: incumbent Claire McCaskill, who lives in Kirkwood, and former Sen. Jean Carnahan, who lives in Clayton.
The help from McCaskill, Carnahan and Wagner underscores two key facts in St. Louis County:
- Women make up a slight majority of the county’s population, and women usually cast a majority of the county’s votes.
- According to some political consultants in both parties, women often make up the majority of undecided voters as an election gets closer.
That may help explain why Stream and Stenger are deploying big-name women during their contest’s final weeks, in hopes of persuading some of those undecided women to make a choice and vote.
“The only voters up for grabs in St. Louis County are women,’’ said one Democratic consultant privately, who’s not involved in the county executive contest.
Wagner said in an interview that she’s highlighting Stream’s fiscal experience. She called this election “a real opportunity to put (the county) in the hands of someone like Rick Stream who is a budget chairman, who is fiscally sound and I think is going to be a terrific county executive.”
McCaskill is attacking Stream’s conservative voting record in the state House, saying that he’s “extreme” when it comes to his support for a measure – now law – that allows the open carrying of firearms, and his opposition to reproductive rights. The senator also promotes Stenger’s credentials as a lawyer and a certified public accountant.
“As a former auditor,” she said, “it’s pretty clear to me that you need somebody that is going to go through the books very carefully, do the kind of audits that Steve is fully understanding of, in terms of the performance of the various county agencies and county departments.”
Wagner and McCaskill are helping raise money for their candidates, as well as hitting the campaign trail on their behalf. Some activists predict both women also may end up on last-minute robocalls.
Political consultants say that Stenger’s focus on reproductive rights and gun violence, as underscored by McCaskill’s comments, are clearly aimed at women voters. So too, say some, is Stream’s promotion of his support for public education.
By most accounts, women voters are particularly important to Stenger, who faces defections from some African Americans because of the unrest in Ferguson.
As a bloc, women tend to lean Democratic, while men lean Republican. Because black voters are an important part of the Democratic base, any minority votes that Stenger loses over Ferguson will need to be made up somewhere else. Beefing up his support among women, say consultants, is an obvious option.
Stenger chose that route this summer, when he was competing against Democratic incumbent Charlie Dooley. He and Dooley both made overt efforts to attract women voters.
Stenger’s most successful TV ad, by his campaign’s own account, was the spot that accused Dooley’s administration of failing to provide help for abused women who showed up at the county shelter.
Dooley, meanwhile, promoted his support for mammograms for women and attacked Stenger for representing a client accused of forcing young women into prostitution.
Jane Dueker, a Democratic activist who’s assisting Stenger, acknowledges the pivotal role that women are likely to play on Nov. 4. “Women are an enormous demographic in St. Louis County,’’ she said.
And, if anything, women are expected to become even more powerful at the ballot box in the future, she added. “St. Louis County’s population is getting older and more female.”