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Carnahan will challenge Clay for Congress

U.S. Reps. Russ Carnahan and William Lacy Clay will face each other in the Democratic primary for the 1st Congressional District, where Clay is the incumbent.
(Rachel Lippmann/St. Louis Public Radio)
U.S. Reps. Russ Carnahan and William Lacy Clay will face each other in the Democratic primary for the 1st Congressional District, where Clay is the incumbent.

Originally posted at 9 a.m. Updated at 1:45 p.m. with comments from Carnahan, Clay and analysts.

A potentially nasty Democratic primary is brewing in the St. Louis area.

Rep. Russ Carnahan, whose 3rd District was drawn out of existence following the 2010 census, filed this morning in the 1st Congressional District, the seat currently held by Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr., who also filed for re-election. Though Carnahan filed his paperwork first - around 8:45 a.m. - Claytold St. Louis on the Airthat a drawing will give him the top ballot spot.

Carnahan said he'd made it very clear from a year ago that he would run for re-election wherever the map drew him.  Clay said Carnahan never told him specifically what he planned to do.

"The 2nd District for Carnahan would be impossible," said Saint Louis University professor Ken Warren. "It's a very Republican district. He would have virtually no chance of winning it all. But the 1st Congressional District is going to be tough for him too, because it's basically designed for Lacy Clay."

Warren says there's no chance of a Democrat losing the seat in November. And he does not expect a brutal primary to impact general election contests in other races, such as for governor or president.

The roots of the primary were planted by the passage of the so-called "Grand Compromise" map that grouped all of St. Louis city and parts of Democratic-leaning St. Louis County (mostly north and central) into the 1st District. The rest of St. Louis County, along with parts of Jefferson and St. Charles counties, became the new 2nd District.

Lawmakers approved the map on a mostly party-line vote, then overrode the veto of Gov. Jay Nixon, with four Democrats joining Republicans to reach the necessary two-thirds margin. There is some evidence that Clay and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, from the Kansas City area, were lobbying for the override (in other words, against their party's position). In the end, two St. Louis-area Democrats - Jamilah Nasheed and Penny Hubbard - voted for the map.

Carnahan pushed the blame for the intra-party contest onto Clay.

"I have really led the fight to be sure that the St. Louis region would have a chance to have three whole districts that our population would support, and that our party would have at least three Democratic seats statewide," Carnahan said.

Clay said Carnahan needed to get his facts straight.

"Those were Speaker Tilley's votes," Clay said. "I asked Speaker Tilley to give me two people that I chose and he gave me these other two. And being a St. Louisan, I would have loved to have kept two Democratic seats in the region, but we did not have the power of the pen to draw the maps."

St. Louis's long racial polarization makes this a potentially explosive election, but both sides said they would run on their records.

"I am asking to be re-elected to a district that I've represented for the last 12 years," Clay said. "We have made tremendous progress in this district as far as targeting toxic sites and getting them cleaned up and prepared for future development. I've been very supportive of the businesses in this district as well as the economic development that comes into this district."

Carnahan would not go into the details of his differences with Clay, but said he will run on a record of being inclusive.

"We have the most diverse area in the state of Missouri, with an Africa-American population, Hispanic, Asian, and of course a very large Bosnian population," Carnahan said. "I think it's important that all of our leaders be inclusive and that's something that I have done very much throughout my career and will continue."

The Clay and Carnahan families both have long political histories in the St. Louis area - Clay recalled how his father, William L. Clay Sr., helped get Carnahan's father Mel elected governor. But Clay told the St. Louis Beacon that the "friendship was over." And during his St. Louis on the Air appearance, he said the "shenanigans had already begun."

"They went into the Secretary of State's voter file, and could not find my name or address, and I have not missed a vote since I was 21 years old," Clay said."It's going to require quite a bit of oversight and due diligence in this process. I'm losing confidence, especially with my opponent's sister [Secretary of State Robin Carnahan] being the chief election authority."

Ryan Hobart, a spokesman for Robin Carnahan says Clay is in the file as "William L. Clay Jr.," but often goes by Lacy, his middle name. Hobart says once that confusion was sorted out, Clay's file appeared instantly.

Clay has already picked up one endorsement in the city - from Mayor Francis Slay, who issued the following statement:

"Barring a court decision throwing out the Congressional maps, the City’s Democratic voters will likely find both Lacy Clay and Russ Carnahan on their August primary ballots. That's too bad. Being represented by two members of Congress is better than one. The map will make it difficult for voters who like both of them. But, the map is not up to us. We will have to make a hard choice. I have. It is my intention to support Lacy Clay in that election. I have had a great working relationship with State Senator, then US Representative, Clay over the years. His commitment to the City of St. Louis is deep and long-standing. Because of his experience, he fully understands the issues facing our City, and the people of our City. It is my strong belief that the City’s many interests are better served by returning Lacy Clay to Congress in November 2012"


Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.