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Politically Speaking: Stephen Webber on piecing the Missouri Democratic Party back together

Stephen Webber, June 2017
Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Webber joins St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies for a candid episode of the Politically Speaking podcast.

Webber is a former state representative from Columbia who was elected last year as party chairman. He took on that role after narrowly losing a state Senate race to Republican Caleb Rowden.

By Webber’s own admission, 2016 was a debacle for Missouri Democrats. All of the party’s statewide candidates lost. Most legislative candidates in competitive districts were swamped by Republicans. And perhaps most distressingly, Democrats performed exceptionally poorly in rural Missouri – where the party must at least be competitive to win statewide elections.

Webber has been traveling all over the state in recent months, including to many of Missouri’s rural counties. He’s trying to get more people to run for state House and state Senate seats, especially after several cycles where GOP candidates faced no Democratic opposition. Additionally, he’s trying to revive the state’s Democratic clubs and groups.

Those efforts may be key to making sure both U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and state Auditor Nicole Galloway are elected next year. He said without a better showing in rural Missouri, the two remaining statewide Democrats may end up losing.

Here’s what Webber said during the show:

  • Webber says his party has failed to connect with people when it comes to its core values, including expanding access to health care and strengthening public education. “I do think we’ve been unable to connect on sort of a visceral or emotional level with people on those issues.”
  • He says the state party will do three different things for the next couple of election cycles: Recruit and train candidates, communicate the Democratic message, and rebuild the party’s clubs and organizations.
  • A key thing behind McCaskill’s successful U.S. Senate bids in 2006 and 2012 was her strong performances in rural Missouri. When asked if he was concerned that McCaskill may not do as well there next year, Webber said: “It’s a Missouri election. It’s going to be a tough election. And they’re going to dump in … tens and tens and tens of millions of dollars against Sen. McCaskill.”
  • Webber added, though, that McCaskill “has an ability to connect with rural Missourians that a lot of people in this state don’t have.” He pointed to the fact that she grew up in out-state Missouri – and she holds town hall meetings there.  

Follow Jason Rosenbaum on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Follow Jo Mannies on Twitter: @jmannies

Follow Stephen Webber on Twitter: @s_webber

Music: “Famous Last Words” by My Chemical Romance

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