After nearly two decades of setbacks, Democrats in Missouri’s 15th Senate District may finally get a competitive contest in 2020.
There’s just one issue: At least two Democrats have stepped forward to take on Sen. Andrew Koenig, a Manchester Republican known for his advocacy against abortion rights — and his highly successful campaigning abilities.
State Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Kirkwood, and Mark Osmack, an analyst for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said they’re planning to challenge Koenig when he’s up for a second term next year.
When she appeared on Politically Speaking earlier this year, Lavender said she was planning on running for a fourth term in the Missouri House. But her plans changed after Koenig handled legislation in the senate that bans abortion after eight weeks — and bars the procedure nearly completely if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
“I think in passing the abortion bill on that last day, as well as just the extreme positions our Legislature has started to take — I think that makes Sen. Koenig extremely vulnerable,” Lavender.
In many respects, the 15th District is Republican-leaning — as it takes in traditionally GOP suburbs like Ballwin and Manchester. Democrats also have nominated candidates that were substantially underfunded and outworked by their Republican counterparts. Argubably the last time the district was competitive was 2004, when then-incumbent Sen. Michael Gibbons narrowly won re-election over Democrat Jeanne Kirkton.
But both Lavender and Osmack believe the district is in play because of the potential backlash over the abortion legislation. St. Louis County has also drifted more to the Democratic column during Donald Trump’s presidency, as evidenced by Claire McCaskill’s dominance in that area over eventual GOP winner Josh Hawley in the 2018 U.S. Senate race.
Lavender also believes her ability to bring a previously Republican House district into the Democratic column, as well as her fundraising abilities, make her the right candidate to take on Koenig.
“I’ve run hard for a long time,” said Lavender, who ran three unsuccessful races for state representative before winning in 2014. “People are familiar with who I am. Once I got to the House, I didn’t stop working.”
‘What is the best way I can serve?’
Lavender’s entrance into the race came a few weeks after Osmack announced his bid for the seat. The Army veteran of Afghanistan worked for McCaskill and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois. He unsuccessfully ran for the 2nd Congressional District last year, losing in the primary to Cort VanOstran.
“In a lot of ways, nothing changes,” said Osmack, referring to Lavender’s decision to run. “What I’m focusing on is our strategy of how to defeat Andrew Koenig.”
Osmack said he decided to challenge Koenig because of his desire to serve publicly.
“I’ve served in the Army active duty six and a half years and still serve in the Army Reserve now in Missouri,” Osmack said. “This for me is another way to continue serving people, which is what I truly do care about.”
“I don’t want to put down any of the candidates that have run on either side, because it is a challenging endeavor. But one of the differences is I have grown up here my entire life. This is my home,” he added.
He also contended that Koenig’s views on education policy, gun control and abortion rights are out of step with the district.
“Sen. Koenig has been responsible not only for championing the language that said abortion cannot happen even in the cases of rape and incest, but also in gutting and preventing the expansion of Medicaid,” Osmack said. “So to be truly pro-life is to say, ‘We want children to have access to health care. We need mothers to have access to affordable health care.’”
For his part, Koenig feels he has a strong message for re-election — adding that he’s acted in the Senate “exactly how I said I was going to act.” Koenig pointed to his skepticism of certain economic development incentives, such as tax increment financing. He handled legislation this year that would bar TIFs from being used in flood plains.
He also said he was upfront to voters about his opposition to abortion rights throughout his legislative career.
“When it came to my pro-life stance, I completely campaigned on that,” Koenig said.
Asked about how the abortion legislation would affect his re-election chances, Koenig replied: “It’s a polarizing issue. In areas like Ballwin and Fenton and Wildwood, they’re very strong pro-life — and areas like Kirkwood might lean more pro-choice,” he said.
Koenig has developed a reputation over the years as an effective campaigner — even against tough GOP competitors like Shamed Dogan and Rick Stream.
“I’ve never been outworked in a campaign, and I don’t plan on being outworked this time,” he said.
Filing for next year’s Aug. 4 primary begins in February.
Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum
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