On the Trail: Following up on the 10 big questions from Missouri's primaries
Now that the 2016 primaries are in the books, most people are looking ahead to what could be an expensive and contentious general election cycle.
But before Tuesday becomes part of Missouri political history, perhaps it’s worth answering the 10 questions posed before voters went to the polls. After all, it wouldn’t be very useful to throw out errant questions without answering them.
Here we go:
Do Missourians prefer insiders or outsiders in statewide contests?
Turns out that they prefer both.
Republicans picked former Navy SEAL, author and nonprofit founder Eric Greitens over three candidates who had previously held or run for office. GOP voters also selected Josh Hawley over state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, in a very, very nasty race for attorney general. And both parties selected non-elected officials (Republican Jay Ashcroft and Democrat Robin Smith) for secretary of state.
But every other slot on the statewide ballot will feature somebody with some political experience. That includes lieutenant governor (featuring state Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, and former U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis) and state treasurer (state Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, and former state Rep. Judy Baker, D-Columbia). Attorney General Chris Koster and former Cass County Prosecutor Teresa Hensley will represent Democrats in races for governor and attorney general, respectively.
This mixed result means each statewide general election will have a different flavor, so to speak. Some, such as treasurer or lieutenant governor, will probably focus on political records, while others (like secretary of state) will zero in on professional qualifications.
Does money matter in the race for governor?
From looking at the numbers, the answer seems be yes and no.
Greitens raised more his three GOP opponents, which almost certainly allowed him to blanket the state with his advertisements. He also received an boost from an outside group (known as a 527 for its IRS designation) known as LG PAC, which ran ads criticizing John Brunner and Catherine Hanaway.
But the person who spent and received the least amount of money during the primary (Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder) did better than a candidate who received a big cash infusion from retired financier Rex Sinquefield (Hanaway). And despite pouring millions of his own money into the race, Brunner only finished about 4 percentage points ahead of Kinder and Hanaway.
Now that the general election is set, things are about to get more costly. Less than 24 hours after the primary ended, a one-minute ad from Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chris Koster started airing on television. And outside groups like the Republican Governors Association launched an ad campaign against Koster, signaling that the governor’s race will reach new levels of rancor and expense.
Did third-party ads make a difference?
There’s little doubt that the answer was yes in the GOP race for attorney general.
In addition to receiving a big financial boost from the Humphreys family, an avalanche of third-party ads both boosted Hawley and castigated Schaefer. One ad focusing on Schaefer’s support of a foreign ownership of farmland bill was especially cutting (and, to some, carried odious racial overtones).
Hawley won in most of outstate Missouri — and racked up big margins in population centers like Cape Girardeau, Clay, Franklin, Greene, Jackson and St. Louis counties. So it’s likely those outside ads made a difference.
Third-party ads had a mixed impact on the governor’s race. The LG PAC's help probably made a difference for Greitens. But a last-minute ad buy from a 527 linked to the Democratic Governors Association didn’t make much of a dent in Greitens’ final margin. In fact, Greitens used the deeply unflattering ads as a foil of sorts during crunch time.
Closer to home, state Rep. Kim Gardner, D-St. Louis, got a big boost from a PAC that George Soros previously funded. While that doesn’t completely explain Gardner’s victory in the circuit attorney's race (she had big name endorsers like U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay), that financial boost certainly didn't hurt.
Are big names enough to win big primaries?
In some races, absolutely.
In the GOP contest for secretary of state, Ashcroft was able to easily beat back a well-funded challenge from state Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit. And considering that Ashcroft won in some vote-rich southwest Missouri counties by nearly two to one, there’s little doubt that having the “Ashcroft” name helped a lot.
And Carnahan won a resounding victory in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor. But he might have won even if he wasn’t former Gov. Mel Carnahan’s son: His two opponents, state Rep. Tommie Pierson, D-Bellefontaine Neighbors, and Winston Apple, were woefully underfunded compared to the St. Louis Democrat.
The trend continued to some extent in legislative races. For instance: Alan Gray won a race to replace his wife, state Rep. Rochelle Walton Gray, in the House. State Rep. Penny Hubbard, D-St. Louis, appeared to prevail by a very small margin over Bruce Franks. And Democrat Steve Eagleton squeaked by Marko Boyko in a bid for the 15th District Senate seat, even though Sen. Thomas Eagleton’s nephew never got around to starting a campaign committee to raise money.
But a big name didn’t always matter: In western St. Louis County, GOP candidate Derek Grier foiled Mike Allen’s effort to succeed his wife (state Rep. Sue Allen) in the Missouri House.
Can unions push Zerr over the finish line?
Nope. And it wasn’t the only race on Tuesday where organized labor fell woefully short.
Zerr ended up losing to businessman Bill Eigel in a competitive race for a St. Charles County-based Senate seat. National labor unions were openly backing Zerr —and even ran third party ads on her behalf. With Zerr’s loss, unions will have one less vote against “right to work” in the Senate.
Meanwhile, two Kansas City areas Republicans who opposed right to work — state Rep. Nick King and Sheila Solon — lost in their primaries on Tuesday. And in the 15th Senatorial District, voters selected two candidates — Eagleton and state Rep. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester — who back the policy. And then there’s this …
Will Curtis’ opposition cancel each other out?
Yes, yes and yes.
Curtis raised the hackles of organized labor for sponsoring a bill that would have instituted “right to work” for construction unions. It’s part of years-long fight between St. Louis County’s African-American political leaders and organized labor.
But while that provocative stand might have sunk other candidates, Curtis benefited from having three opponents in the Democratic primary. And with the anti-Curtis vote divided, the two-term representative was able to get enough votes to win a third term.
It’s the worst possible outcome for organized labor: Not only did the interest group fail to take out a potential “right to work” override vote, but Curtis (who received a big financial boost from the Humphreys family) is now in a decent position to run for the state Senate from the 14th District in 2018. Curtis isn’t the only person interested in that race, so unions may use his re-election as a textbook example to coalesce around one candidate.
Will St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger have a functioning majority on the St. Louis County Council?
Because Walton Gray decimated Councilman Mike O’Mara, D-Florissant, on Tuesday, Stenger will not be able to count on a County Council that will automatically approve his initiatives. That’s especially the case if Gray forms an alliance with Councilmembers Hazel Erby, Colleen Wasinger and Mark Harder, a trio that often diverge from Stenger on controversial issues.
The Walton Gray victory is especially big for Erby, who has often found herself on the losing end of things after County Executive Charlie Dooley lost re-election. If she can keep the four-person alliance together, Erby could force Stenger to grant concessions — as opposed to being a voice of opposition.
Walton Gray’s win could mark an end of an era of sorts: For decades, primarily white union officials (like O’Mara) got elected to districts that became more and more African-American. Not only did the black political community expand its influence on the council, but it may constitute a permanent shift in north St. Louis County's political reality.
How will the Republican primaries in St. Louis affect the circuit attorney and sheriff's race?
Not that much.
It’s fairly common for Republicans living in St. Louis to vote in Democratic primaries. But in both the circuit attorney and sheriff’s race, the margins were too big for that crossover vote to matter that much.
For instance: About 6,500 people voted in the GOP primary for governor. But state Rep. Kimberly Gardner prevailed in the circuit attorney’s race by nearly 10,000 votes. While Vernon Betts won the sheriff’s race over Alderman Joe Vaccaro by roughly 5,000 votes, it’s not realistic to expect that the GOP primary vote in the city would have been enough for a Vaccaro victory.
How will the “progressive slate” fare in St. Louis?
Not that badly.
Some bright spots for the slate include Marty Murray Jr. defeating longtime 7th Ward Committeeman Brian Wahby and Annie Rice besting Norah Ryan in the 8th Ward. About a half-dozen other candidates (many who are fans of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders) prevailed in other parts of the city.
But the progressive crew fell short in other committeeperson races, as well as several state representative contests. That may just show that the effort to defeat the so-called “old guard” isn’t going to happen overnight.
Will Steinmanmania run wild on Missouri?
Because Missouri’s most celebrated also-ran candidate only received 11,874 votes for governor, the answer to this one is no.
The bearded phenomenon’s best showing was in St. Louis County, where he received 3,437 votes. Why these people voted for Steinman is unknown, but perhaps they were impressed by his ability to make chicken noises.
Interestingly, three people voted for Steinman in Mercer, Putnam and Harrison counties. They must have been enchanted by Steinman’s spray-painted van.
Alas, unsuccessful U.S. Senate contender Chief Wana Dubie largely eclipsed Steinman in the race to become Missouri’s most successful oddity candidate. The Salem resident snagged 30,340 votes, which was enough for 9.519 percent of the total tally. That’s much better than the 4.20 percent that some Twitter users guessed he’d receive.
On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics.