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On the Trail, an occasional column by St. Louis Public Radio political reporter Jason Rosenbaum, takes an analytical look at politics and policy across Missouri.

Asked and answered: Five lessons from Tuesday's Democratic primary

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 6, 2013 - With his victory over St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed and former Alderman Jimmie Matthews, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay is likely to make history by becoming the first chief executive to win four four-year terms.

While other three-term mayors tried and failed to reach that milestone, Slay managed to achieve it with a 10-point victory in Tuesday's  Democratic primary. He is heavily favored against Green Party nominee James McNeely in Aprils general election.

How Slay won can be seen in the ward-by-ward numbers the St. Louis Board of Election Commissioners released on Wednesday. Slay prevailed in 16 out of the city’s 28 wards, primarily ones located in south and central city. He even won a slim victory in the 6th Ward, which Reed once represented on the Board of Aldermen.

Slay used his huge advantage in financial resources and a sophisticated political organization to prevail over Reed, arguably the incumbent’s strongest opponent since he was first elected in 2001. 

While Reed won decisively in some northern wards, turnout there was even or lower than the 22 percent citywide average. Some south city wards that gave Slay a large margin of victory had some of Tuesday’s highest turnout numbers.

“Slay’s advantage is that he has support among people who are likely to turn out and Reed has a disadvantage in that he has support among people who are a little less likely to turn out,” said Dave Robertson, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “So Reed has to do a little bit better in his opponent’s areas to stay even with Slay – and it didn’t happen.”

To dig into the results a little further, here are answers to the five big questions posed in Monday's On the Trail column:

Will black voters turn out big again?

Voters in primarily African-American wards didn’t replicate the turnout seen in last August’s Democratic primary. That’s when a hefty turnout among African-Americans helped fuel U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay’s victory over U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan in the 1st congressional district Democratic primary.

That’s not necessarily unexpected. The August primary featured more contested races, including spirited battles for city treasurer, a state senate seat and numerous state representative positions. But comparing Tuesday’s numbers to the 2009 Democratic primary is a bit perilous: For one thing, ward boundaries were different. And in that year, Slay’s bigger challenge was in the general election against former state Sen. Maida Coleman, D-St. Louis.

In any case, Tuesday’s numbers show that Reed didn’t get enough black voters to the polls to help him against Slay. (Both candidates live in south St. Louis.)

Reed got 80 percent of the vote in the north side 4th Ward, his highest percentage of any of the 28 wards. But only 17.68 percent of the voters there turned out. By comparison, 25.12 percent of 4th Ward voters turned out last August to vote in that Democratic primary.

Nor did it appear that contested aldermanic races in the 1st, 3rd, 5th, 21st or 27th Wards boosted turnout enough to help Reed. Only one of those wards – the 21st – broke the 22 percent citywide average. And even the 21st Ward’s 23.9 percent turnout on Tuesday was lower than the 31.11 percent turnout last August.

Did Clay's endorsement of Slay make any difference? That may be difficult to answer definitively.

But it should be noted that Slay got larger percentages than Carnahan did in north city wards: In the 4th Ward, Slay received 17.49 percent of the vote compared to Carnahan’s 4.66 percent. And while Carnahan received 6.2 percent and 6.29 percent in the 21st and 27th Wards, Slay received 19.23 percent and 18.8 percent respectively in those areas. 

“He didn’t win a landslide, but he won a very solid victory,” Robertson said. “And those numbers show that it’s solid enough on the north side to keep first the margin and second the turnout from really mobilizing on Reed’s behalf and making it a closer election than it was.”

Can Reed make inroads in south St. Louis wards?

The answer appears to be a resounding no.

Retired UMSL political scientist Lana Stein noted earlier this month that Slay needed to win big in south St. Louis, especially the 12th, 16th and 23rd wards. Not only did Slay prevail in these wards with over 80 percent of the vote, but those areas all had around 30 percent voter turnout. Slay’s margins in those wards were key components to his roughly 4,474-vote advantage over Reed.

While some south St. Louis wards – such as 9th, 10th, 11th and 25th – had turnouts lower than 22 percent, others actually saw better turnout than in August. In the 16th Ward, for instance, 35 percent of voters came out on Tuesday, compared to 33.64 percent last August.

Reed had hoped to cut into Slay’s south St. Louis strongholds, especially since that area of the city is home to plenty of firefighters. That group backed Reed, who had quarreled with Slay over firefighter pensions. With the exception of the 20th Ward, Reed ended up losing to Slay in south city wards generally by sizable margins.

Slay also did well in the 6th, 7th, 17th and 28th wards – the geographic center of the city. Stein told the Beacon last week that Slay needed to do well in these areas as part of his strategy to victory. He succeeded.

Will Republicans vote in the Democratic primary?

The three wards that broke 30 percent in terms of turnout – the 12th, 16th and 23rd – are Republican strongholds. Well, at least compared to other wards in the Democratic-dominated city.

The 12th Ward, for instance, had a Republican alderman for years, while GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney broke 40 percent in the 16th Ward last November. And the 23rd Ward is the only place where a Republican candidate filed to run for the Board of Aldermen.

So it stands to reason that some of the Republicans in those wards – as well as other parts of the city – came out on Tuesday to vote for Slay. But Robertson said the question is impossible to answer definitively, since voters don’t have to reveal their party affiliation to poll workers.

“In places like St. Louis Hills with a more affluent, older population than the north side wards, you’re likely to get a higher turnout, all other things being equal,” Robertson said. “That’s the kind of voter that tends to show up for elections, and this election just underscored that fact. So I would not want to draw the conclusion that those are heavily Republican votes. I don’t think the data can speak to that.”

Are incumbent aldermen safe for four more years?

Yes, for the most part.

Only seven of the 15 races for the Board of Aldermen were contested, which means eight incumbents are highly likely to win another term. Five incumbents – Alderman Freeman Bosley Sr., D-3rd Ward, Alderwoman Tammika Hubbard, D-5th Ward, Alderwoman Jennifer Florida, D-15th Ward, Alderman Antonio French, D-21st Ward, and Alderman Chris Carter, D-27th Ward – won re-election by fairly comfortable margins.

In the 6th Ward, Christine Ingrassia outflanked Damon Jones and Michelle Witthaus to fill out the rest of former Alderwoman Kacie Starr Triplett’s term. Ingrassia will face the voters again in 2015.

But just as in 2009 and 2011, an incumbent did end up losing. Alderman Charles “Quincy” Troupe lost to former Alderwoman Sharon Tyus in the north side 1st Ward. Tyus – an attorney who was a committeewoman in the ward – also served as an alderwoman in the 1990s.

Tyus unsuccessfully ran against Troupe in 2005 and 2009. But Tyus said in an interview that redistricting in 2011 made it easier for her to win in the 1st Ward, mainly because it reassembled parts of the area she represented in the 1990s.

“I think Troupe had been in office a very long time and I think people want to give him a chance to prove himself that he could be an aldermen,” said Tyus, alluding to how Troupe used to be a state legislator.

Tyus also said that Troupe may have underestimated the difficulties of being an alderman. “Ultimately, Mr. Troupe found that being (in the legislature) is a lot easier than being an alderman. They want you to come to your meetings and they’ve very demanding.”

“The difference after eight years was the people had a clear choice of who had produced,” she added.

Some candidates who won a Democratic primary could be facing Republican or Green Party candidates, but are likely to prevail in April. They could also potentially face independent candidates, which is how Alderman Scott Ogilvie, I-24th Ward, made it to the board.

Does money matter?

Considering Slay had a nearly 4-to-1 advantage in terms of financial resources, Reed’s 44 percent performance may not be that bad. After all, other underfunded challengers to Slay – including Irene Smith in 2005 and Coleman in 2009 – fared far worse than Reed.

That’s not unexpected, Robertson said, because Slay likely had detractors just by being in office a long time.

“Every mayor is going to pick up enemies in the course of his terms,” Robertson said. “You would expect, all other things being equal, for the margin to slip a little bit each time. And opponents are always hoping it will slip enough to kick them into office.

Reed told St. Louis Public Radio that the financial deficit was just too much to overcome. And while Slay’s financial resources allowed him to pay for television and radio ads, it also likely helped build a sophisticated political organization – one that could easily counteract a get-out-the-vote push from Reed.

Slay's campaign manager Richard Callow, for instance, told the Beacon on Tuesday that the mayor's volunteers at each polling place had an electronic list of people expected to turn out for Slay. The volunteers, known as “scratchers,’’ ticked off the name of each identified voter as he or she showed up at the polls.

“The money he was able to spend was able to blunt some of the counterarguments and potential support that Reed would have been able to get to get,” Robertson said. “It sort of limited the ability for Reed’s attacks to get as much traction as they needed to really pull out a lot of people to opposed Slay.”

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.