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Both sides ramp up for 73rd District state House contest on Nov. 3 ballot

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 29, 2009 - Harriett’s List, the political action committee that steers money to progressive women candidates, announced Wednesday that its first endorsed candidate is the woman who until recently was its executive director: Democrat Stacey Newman.

And Thursday, the national Emily's List political action committee has followed suit.

The endorsements of Newman for the 73rd District state House seat wasn't surprising, but it did highlight the last-minute activities aimed at reminding county Democrats and Republicans that there is a key special election next Tuesday.

Newman faces Republican Dan O'Sullivan, who is getting a lot of last-minute support from area conservative groups, including the St. Louis Tea Party coalition and the like-minded "I Hear the People Say." The latter sent out an e-appeal today calling for conservatives to contact O'Sullivan's campaign to help out.

The 73rd District seat  includes all of Clayton, Richmond Heights and Maplewood and parts of Webster Groves, Brentwood and Ladue.

The special election is being held because the previous holder of the seat, Democrat Steve Brown, had to resign in August when he pleaded guilty to a federal felony conviction related to campaign activities during the unsuccessful 2004 bid of Democrat Jeff Smith for Congress. (Smith also had to resign his state Senate seat in August after pleading guilty to two federal charges.)

Although a Democratic-leaning district, Republicans believe O'Sullivan has a chance in the 73rd because of Brown's troubles -- and next Tuesday's expected low voter turnout.

Harriett's List chairman May Scheve Reardon (a former state legislator and former head of the Missouri Democratic Party) sent out an e-release this afternoon announcing the PAC's support for Newman. Reardon also cited the candidate's work as "a community activist to protect women’s reproductive rights, for domestic violence protections, equal opportunities for employment and housing and equal pay for equal work...."

The release highlighted social issues, such as abortion and guns, that candidates often sidestep during their campaigns. But that's not necessarily true during low turnout special elections, when both parties' most ardent (and, often, most conservative or liberal) activists are deemed mostly likely to show up at the polls.

Emily's List also notes that Newman has "supported state domestic violence protection, equal pay legislation, and fought restrictions to birth control and family planning...." 

Conservative events and groups also have been putting the spotlight on O'Sullivan's opposition to abortion, and Newman's longstanding support for abortion rights. The topic came up last week, for example, at the forum featuring a Republican contender for the U.S. Senate, state Sen. Chuck Purgason. Organizers encouraged the audience to volunteer for O'Sullivan.

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Reardon said that Newman, if elected, would be "only the 22nd progressive Democratic woman in the state Legislature,'' which has 197 members (163 in the House and 34 in the Senate.)

Such assertions by both sides would likely not be made if a lot of swing voters were expected to show up next Tuesday.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.