© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Carnahan challenging Clay in August primary for 1st Congressional District

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 28, 2012 - For one uncomfortable moment, U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan — who had just filed for office — had to nudge past his new primary opponent and fellow St. Louis Democrat: fellow U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay.

Asked Clay with some sarcasm: “Couldn’t wait for the Supreme Court to rule?”

Carnahan made it official this morning what had been rumored for weeks. With his own district shredded in redistricting, and the high court’s ruling still pending, Carnahan filed today to challenge Clay in the newly configured 1st District.

Clay predicted that the August primary “will be ugly.”

Carnahan said, “I don’t think primaries are necessarily bad things. They can be healthy for our party and our state.”

Carnahan implied that he blames Clay for the predicament that tossed them together.

Carnahan was among the first to file when candidate filing for this year’s elections got underway at 8 a.m. this morning in the office of Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, the congressman’s sister.

He was leaving the building through the hallway packed with candidates when he ran into Clay, who was standing in line.

Carnahan said in an interview in a nearby anteroom that he’s still hoping that the Missouri Supreme Court will toss out the boundary lines drawn last spring by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, which eliminated his district.

“I believe the map is unconstitutional,’’ he said.

Missouri loses a congressional district, going down to eight, because the state’s population growth was less than in some other states. Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the map, but the General Assembly overrode that veto with the help of four Democrats in the state House.

Carnahan says it’s unfair that the St. Louis area is the one losing the congressional district – a point that Clay shares.

But where they part company is over who to blame.  Carnahan contends that Clay is partly at fault, because two state House members in his district provided half of the four Democratic House votes needed for the override.

Said Carnahan: “One of the questions for Congressman Clay is why did he support a map with Republicans that diminishes the clout for the region and the party?”

Clay angrily replied later that Carnahan “is a liar. He doesn’t know the facts.”

Clay denied that he pressed state Reps. Jamilah Nasheed and Penny Hubbard, both St. Louis Democrats, to vote to override Nixon.  Both have said that Clay and his father, retired congressman William L. Clay, had been lobbying for them to vote for the map.

“It’s all a lie,’’ Clay said. “They wanted to be with (state House Speaker Steve) Tilley. I had nothing to do with the veto override.”

Clay said he had been irked that the story had been circulating for months, but said that he didn’t publicly deny it earlier because “I wanted to see how far it would go,’’ referring to Carnahan’s rumored plans.

Carnahan gives a press conference at Lambert Airport.

Carnahan said he is optimistic that the state Supreme Court will toss out the congressional map, saying that he was heartened by the court’s decision in January to order a lower-court trial on the matter. The judge ruled in favor of the map, leaving the final decision up to the high court.

If the Supreme Court tosses out the map and orders a new one, Carnahan hopes that the new map will have a configuration that gives him a St. Louis area district that he can run in, without challenging Clay.

If so, Carnahan plans to refile.  He said he filed anyway today because "I always file on the first day."

But Clay said that as far as he is concerned, “it doesn’t matter’’ how the Missouri Supreme Court rules. They are no longer friends.

Carnahan’s filing, he said, “was a selfish act. It’s unfortunate that our relationship had to end like this.”

Each said he plans to campaign on his congressional record. Clay has held office for six two-year terms, while Carnahan is completing his fourth term.

Each said he plans to focus primarily on economic issues.

Both come from longstanding political families. Clay is the son of a former congressman, while Carnahan is the son of the late Gov. Mel Carnahan and former U.S. Sen. Jean Carnahan.

Clay alleged Tuesday that the congressman's sister, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, may have been complicit in a brief delay in his filing, when her staff initially couldn't find his name in the statewide voter file.

It turned out that Clay is listed, with his signature, as "William L. Clay Jr." A staff person initially had typed in his full name, William Lacy Clay, and found no matches. The problem was resolved by using his address.

The congressman contended later that the episode "certainly calls into question the integrity of the state's chief election officials."

A spokesman for Robin Carnahan noted that it was the local election officials who had put the congressman's name into the database as "William L. Clay Jr." Her staff also showed the Beacon a copy of Clay's registration form to prove that he is indeed in the state's system.

Clay, by the way, won their first contest — today's lottery to determine which first-day filer will be listed first on the ballot.

Clay drew 646, while Carnahan drew 806. That means Clay will be first on the August primary ballot.

Clay also snagged the fledgling contest's two big-name endorsements. St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay endorsed Clay in the afternoon. And Tuesday night, St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley followed suit.

In a statement, the mayor said, in part, that he lamented having to make the choice -- and that he disliked the new map. That said, Slay added, "It is my strong belief that the city’s many interests are better served by returning Lacy Clay to Congress in November 2012."

Start of update: Dooley endorsed Clay soon after the conclusion of the County Council meeting.  “He’s been a congressman for 12 years, he’s a senior congressman," Dooley said. "There’s no reason for me to change.”

Dooley, who is from Northwoods, has not always been Clay's ally. In fact, he ran against Clay in the 2000 race to replace then-U.S. Rep. William L. Clay Sr., who was retiring. End update

Meanwhile, former Republican state party chair Ann Wagner of Ballwin followed through with plans to file for Congress in the 2nd District. 

Carnahan had been encouraged by state and national party leaders to consider filing in the 2nd instead because it includes part of his soon-to-be-demolished 3rd District.

Wagner said she had been focusing on her own contest, which sees her facing former Webster Groves Councilman Randy Jotte, who also filed today.

When asked about Carnahan's decision, Wagner observed, "Nothing surprises me in politics."

To Carnahan and Clay, she added with a smile, "I wish them well. I hope they have a spirited contest."

Jason Rosenbaum also contributed to this article.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.