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Missouri state Sen. Steve Roberts is running for Cori Bush’s congressional seat

State Sen. Steve Roberts, D-St. Louis, speaks with Sen. Doug Beck. D-Affton, during the last day of the 2021 legislative session on May 14, 2021.
Daniel Shular
Special to St. Louis Public Radio
State Sen. Steve Roberts, photographed in May 2021 in the Missouri Senate, is running against U.S. Rep. Cori Bush to represent Missouri's 1st Congressional District. Roberts submitted his paperwork on the second-to-last day of candidate filing for the Aug. 2 primary.

Updated at 12:25 p.m. March 29, with comments from U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, state Sen. Steve Roberts and political science professor Anita Manion

Democratic state Sen. Steve Roberts, D-St. Louis, is challenging Congresswoman Cori Bush, D-St. Louis County, to represent Missouri’s 1st Congressional District.

Roberts submitted his paperwork on Monday, the second-to-last day of candidate filing to run for the seat.

Roberts said he didn’t intend to run for Congress when he was initially elected to serve in the Missouri Senate, but Bush’s actions changed that.

“It's become pretty apparent to me that Congresswoman Cori Bush is not interested in serving as a U.S. Representative,” Roberts said. 

He added: “She made a comment that she wanted to defund the Pentagon. The NGA (National Geospatial Intelligence Agency) is a multimillion-dollar project that's in my Senate seat, in the 1st Congressional [District], those folks don't have a voice.”

In a statement after Roberts’ announcement, Bush’s office said the people of St. Louis have a clear choice in the election.

“Their Congresswoman who loves them and delivered hundreds of millions of dollars to St. Louis, and a host of ego-driven men who seem to think all that Black women leaders do is never good enough,” the written statement said.

Anita Manion, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said seeing a more establishment candidate isn’t that surprising.

“Representative Bush has made some choices on votes that haven't always sort of toed the Democratic Party line. So, I don't think it's surprising that there would be a challenger in that district,” Manion said.

In the statement Monday announcing the campaign, Roberts’ spokesman Ryan Hawkins spoke against Bush’s voting record, including her vote against President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City, Missouri's other Democratic member of Congress, voted yes on the bill, as did outgoing Republican Sen. Roy Blunt.

“Voting NO on so many issues that affect families in the 1st district like fixing our roads and bridges, clean air, clean water, support for Ukraine during a time of war, and Capitol security after January 6, for nothing more than political theater, clearly shows the Congresswoman is only concerned about Twitter likes and seeking the celebrity status,” Hawkins said in a written statement.

In a statement released after she voted against the bill, Bush said a vote for the infrastructure plan jeopardized any leverage on the Build Back Better Act.

"Each and every one of my votes here in D.C. has been in the interest of saving lives. And tonight was no different," Bush said.

Bush first ran for Congress in 2018, losing to longtime incumbent Lacy Clay in the primary. Bush challenged Clay again in 2020 and won before going on to win the seat in the general election. She is running her first reelection campaign.

Manion says Roberts is fashioning himself as a more moderate candidate.

“He's going to be looking for maybe an older voter, a more traditional voter, but I think he's going to have to figure out how to get the enthusiasm to have them turn out in a Democratic primary,” she said.

Manion still believes Bush has the advantage in the primary.

“I think she has a lot of enthusiasm in her base. And that'll be really difficult for Senator Roberts to overcome, particularly in a Democratic primary,” Manion said.

Roberts served in the Missouri House from 2016 through 2020, when he was elected to the Senate. He is currently in his second year as a Missouri state senator.

Before his term in the House, Roberts was accused by fellow freshman lawmaker Cora Faith Walker, who died this month, of drugging and sexually assaulting her. Prosecutors did not press charges against Roberts, and both Walker and Roberts dropped their lawsuits against each other.

Manion says Walker’s recent death has brought more attention to the allegations.

“I think that makes it a more of an uphill battle for him. And particularly when we know that Black women are the core of the Democratic Party in St. Louis and elsewhere. And in a primary election, it's about energy and turnout,” Manion said.

The statement from Bush’s office mentioned Roberts’ assault allegations, saying, “Such men do not belong in public service, much less representing the incredible people of St. Louis in Congress.”

Roberts’ post on Twitter about his candidacy was met mostly with criticism; most replies and interactions to the tweet called for support of Bush or referenced the assault allegations.

“They can try to distract voters from her indefensible voting record by recycling old false stories about me, but I don't think it's gonna work,” Roberts said.

According to candidate filing information, Roberts is the fifth person in the primary other than Bush. Three Republicans have also filed for the race, though the district is considered a safe Democratic seat and is protected by the Voting Rights Act.

As to why he waited until near the end of filing to run, Roberts said he was waiting to see how the 1st Congressional District map was going to turn out.

However, neither Bush nor Roberts know whom exactly they are running to represent, as the Missouri Legislature has yet to pass a congressional redistricting map.

Follow Sarah Kellogg on Twitter: @sarahkkellogg

Sarah Kellogg is a Missouri Statehouse and Politics Reporter for St. Louis Public Radio and other public radio stations across the state.