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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.

With Missouri’s Presidential Primary Looming, Local Democrats Pick Sides Among Split Field

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon takes questions from reporters in 2015.
File photo / Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio
Former Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has backed former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for president.

With a little more than two weeks to go before Democratic voters head to the polls for Missouri’s presidential primary, the remaining candidates are banking on endorsements from the state’s political figures to get the word out.

And with presidential contenders focusing on contests, including Super Tuesday, that take place before Missouri's primary, some campaigns are sending notable surrogates to gin up excitement.

There will be 68 delegates up for grabs for Missouri’s March 10 Democratic primary. And a number of campaigns are investing money and manpower in the state — most notably former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Bloomberg, who has already spent millions on ads and staff in Missouri, announced the endorsement of former Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Sunday night. Nixon, the last Democrat to win the governorship in the state, said in a statement that Bloomberg is “prepared to find real and lasting solutions to pressing issues like aging infrastructure, clean energy, clean water, economic opportunity and conservation of our outdoors.”

“He and his team are committed to seeking and valuing input from diverse communities and constituencies,” Nixon said. “After viewing his impressive record and talking with him, it is clear to me that Mike has the integrity, competence, compassion and capacity to lead our nation.” 


Missouri’s lone statewide Democratic official, Auditor Nicole Galloway, told the Kansas City Star that she won’t endorse anyone before the March 10 primary. It also remains to be seen if former Democratic officials, like U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill or Secretary of State Jason Kander, will remain neutral or back a candidate.

Some of Missouri’s federal, state and local officials have already picked sides. U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City, endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden a few months ago. Three Missouri Democratic state representatives — Ian Mackey, Matt Sain and Wes Rogers — endorsed former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. And St. Louis Alderwoman Megan Green, D-15th Ward, and state Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis, are backing Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who came close to winning Missouri’s primary in 2016 and is currently seen as the national frontrunner.

“In an era where there is so much hatred and division I believe Bernie Sanders is the only candidate that can unite the country for the greater good of everybody,” Aldridge said in a statement when he endorsed Sanders last month.

St. Louis County Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, D-Maplewood, and St. Louis Alderwoman Annie Rice, D-8th Ward, announced their support for Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren earlier this month. Both Clancy and Rice rallied canvassers at Warren’s Maplewood office on Sunday afternoon.

Mixed record

St. Louis County Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, D-Maplewood, speaks to canvassers on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. Clancy and St. Louis Alderwoman Annie Rice, D-8th Ward, are backing Warren's campaign.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, D-Maplewood, speaks to canvassers on Sunday. Clancy and St. Louis Alderwoman Annie Rice, D-8th Ward, are backing Warren's campaign.

It’s fairly common for Missouri’s elected officials to throw their support behind a presidential candidate. But recent history shows that such backing doesn’t always equal success.

For instance, in 2016, most of Missouri’s Democratic elected officials endorsed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid. But Sanders’ network of supporters nearly powered him to victory — and received roughly the same number of delegates as Clinton. 

That result had long-term implications for the Missouri Democratic Party. Because more Sanders backers showed up to the party’s state convention in 2016, four supporters of the Vermont senator ended up being elected to positions on the Democratic National Committee. All four of those people, including Green, could get to vote as super delegates if there isn’t a clear winner on the first ballot at the Democratic National Convention.

During that same election cycle, a host of key GOP officials supported Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential bid — including former U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, then-House Speaker Todd Richardson and U.S. Rep. Jason Smith. 

But Rubio’s campaign had floundered badly at that point, and he came in fourth in the Missouri primary. President Donald Trump, who had few endorsements from elected officials before Missouri’s presidential primary, won the state over Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Trump’s Missouri win in 2016 mirrored what happened in 2008, when Arizona Sen. John McCain won the state’s primary even though two of his rivals, former Gov. Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, captured most of the support from Missouri’s Republican elected officials.

Surrogates visit 

Former ABC News Anchor Sam Donaldson speaks at a stop in St. Louis for Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
Former ABC News Anchor Sam Donaldson speaks at stop in St. Louis for Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg.

Missouri’s presidential contest takes place after Super Tuesday, when delegates in large states like California, Texas and North Carolina will be up for grabs. That would explain why the candidates themselves aren’t stumping in Missouri yet.

But some high-profile surrogates spent time in Missouri on Monday. That included Reggie Love, a former aide to President Barack Obama who came to St. Louis to support Buttigieg’s campaign.

In an interview with St. Louis Public Radio, Love said the Missouri primary is going to be important in terms who ends up snagging the Democratic nomination for president.

“I think the issues that Mayor Buttigieg has worked on as mayor, I think many of those are similar to what's happening here in St. Louis and the rest of Missouri,” Love said. “I think he's had some great plans about using immigration as a way to revitalize shrinking communities in rural America. I think he's had some very smart ideas that solve a lot of problems in a thoughtful, meaningful way that rural areas struggle with.”

Meanwhile, former ABC News anchor Sam Donaldson was in St. Louis to campaign for Bloomberg. Donaldson told St. Louis Public Radio that he felt Bloomberg had what it takes to defeat Trump in November.

"It's because those of us who think that kind of person ought not to be president of the United States haven't worked hard enough. We haven't made the case for people who might be on the fence," Donaldson said. "His supporters will never leave him. And the people on the other side, who don't like him for the reasons that we've talked about, are not going to suddenly vote for him."

"Mike's putting his own money in it," he added. "And if he's elected president, he doesn't owe anybody anything."  

One week after Missouri residents vote, Illinois’ presidential primary takes place on March 17.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

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