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McCreery and Hruza vie for Missouri’s most competitive state Senate seat

Jason Rosenbaum and House Communications
St. Louis Public Radio
Democrat Tracy McCreery and Republican George Hruza are competing for Missouri's 24th District Senate seat.

Democrat Tracy McCreery and Republican George Hruza are well aware that their race for the St. Louis County-based 24th District is being closely watched.

That’s because McCreery, a state representative, and Hruza, a dermatologist, are vying for what’s widely believed to be the only competitive state Senate district in Missouri this year. Due to the rest of the districts being either being drawn decidedly Republican or Democratic-leaning in the latest redistricting, or having particularly strong incumbents, the 24th District race is, for all intents and purposes, the only race this year that’s truly in question.

While the district tilts toward the Democrats, Republicans believe they have recruited a candidate in Hruza that can win if the national environment is favorable to the GOP. But Missouri Democrats contend that McCreery is doing everything right to keep the seat in the party’s column.

And while emphasizing their ideological similarities with their respective parties, McCreery and Hruza are also pointing to areas where they diverge – perhaps a sign of how competitive the district is compared to others across the state.

McCreery’s Senate bid a long time coming

McCreery has served as a state representative for the 88th District since 2015, representing portions of Creve Coeur, Olivette, Chesterfield and Frontenac in the Missouri House. Before winning her election in 2014, she also won a special election in 2011 to serve out an unexpired House term.

McCreery is unable to run for the House again due to term limits.

McCreery worked for then-state Sen. Joan Bray – who represented the 24th Senatorial District from 2002 through the end of 2010. She said that experience would make her a fitting successor to Schupp, who is not running again because of term limits.

“I've been able to get things done, even though there has been a Republican majority the entire time I've been in the State House,” McCreery said.

McCreery pointed to her work, for instance, as a key member of the House Agriculture Policy Committee as proof that she can work effectively with Republicans. She’s also been a point person during debates on issues involving utilities, most notably during a 2017 special session.

And her campaign ads have also showcased her decision to oppose then-Gov. Jay Nixon’s drive to issue bonds for a football stadium without legislative or statewide voter approval. That decision not only put her in opposition to a governor of her own party, but also hardcore St. Louis Rams fans who felt the proposal was the best way to keep the team from bolting to Inglewood, California. (Rams owner Stan Kroenke ended up moving the team to the Los Angeles area in early 2016.)

As she campaigns for the seat, McCreery said 24th District voters are concerned about state government interfering in the affairs of local school boards. She also said people are energized about the state banning abortion with exception of medical emergencies.

“I know from my gut, but also from the data that voters in St. Louis County are pro choice,” McCreery said. “These are people that are compassionate. And they also don't think that it's their place to tell another person what they can or cannot do.”

Hruza hopes backstory and medical service resonates

Hruza, who is making his first bid for political office, points to his biography as inspiring him to run for office.

Hruza’s mother was a Holocaust survivor, and was liberated by Gen. George Patton’s infantry division. When what was Czechoslovakia fell under a communist dictatorship, Hruza and his family eventually made their way to the United States – where he became a dermatologist.

“So without the American soldiers’ bravery and compassion, I wouldn't be here,” Hruza said.

While many Republicans around the state were excited when Hruza entered the contest, he still had to get through a primary against attorney Brett Schenck. He said the intraparty contest was a “godsend,” because it prompted him to go meet voters sooner – something he added can only help his cause against McCreery.

Describing himself as a “Reagan Republican,” Hruza said he’s generally supportive of the idea of cutting taxes – and against any effort to shift money from law enforcement agencies to social service pursuits (a move that’s known as “defunding the police). He also supports a “Parents Bill of Rights” to give parents information about their childrens’ curriculum and guest speakers.

He also said he supports “school choice” measures, including expanding a tax credit that funds scholarships and bolstering charter schools.

“I would want to expand significantly… students’ access charter schools, beyond the very limited areas where they can do that,” he said.

Hruza said that the abortion ban that was implemented after the demise of Roe v. Wade is too restrictive, adding that he would want to add exceptions for people who become pregnant due to rape or incest. He would also want to add “health of the mother” as an exception, though he added he would want to hear from constituents about further changes to the law.

He added, though, that he’s rarely heard voters talk about the abortion ban while on the campaign trail – adding that 24th District residents are more concerned about rising inflation and crime prevention.

“I can probably count on one hand the number of times the abortion has come up as a significant issue,” Hruza said.

This Missouri State Capitol on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, in Jefferson City, Missouri.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
This Missouri State Capitol on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, in Jefferson City, Missouri.

District changes loom large

Redistricting played a major role in making the 24th District competitive this year.

The old version of the 24th District included decided Democratic municipalities such as Overland, Olivette and St. Ann – along with more Republican ones like Town and Country. But the district was moving so far into the Democratic column that the GOP failed to put forth a credible candidate in 2018 to run against Schupp.

After redistricting, the 24th District essentially runs up and down I-270 – and includes Democratic-leaning places like Maryland Heights and Kirkwood as well as Republican cities like Fenton and Des Peres. McCreery’s residence was barely drawn out of the district, though she said she is planning to move if she ends up winning. (McCreery is allowed to run in the district since her residence used to be in the 24th District before the new lines were set.)

Both candidates say they have what it takes to prevail on November 8.

“That actually helps us have a real discourse,” Hruza said. “Some of the districts in Missouri are pretty hard Republican or Democratic. You end up then having very extreme situations. So this district is really right in the middle.”

While noting the 24th District contest “is definitely the only truly competitive state Senate race this cycle,” McCreery said her strategy hasn’t really changed since she announced for the seat in 2021.

“I've been so active in the community, and people in this state senate district share the same concerns and passions that I do,” she said. “And I think I'll be a really great fit for state senator for the folks that are in this footprint.”

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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