The state that gave voters Todd Akin in 2012 is back at it again. Missouri used to have campaign finance limits, but — when the Republicans held the Governor’s mansion between 2005 and 2008 — those limits went away. (There might be a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot this fall to restore those limits. In recent years, policy proposals have tended to be constitutional amendments to avoid any legislative attempts to repeal voter-approved legislation such as the original campaign finance limits.) It is not unusual for one donor (actually one of two or three individuals) to give several hundred thousand dollars in seed money to a candidate. As a result, the pre-filing period sees a lot of candidates changing races in response to these well-funded candidates. Outside of the U.S. Senate race, each of the state-wide races (there are five state offices on the ballot) has a competitive primary on at least one side of the ballot.
Republicans like to describe Missouri as a state with two thorns in its sides. The two thorns being the St. Louis area and the Kansas City area; both of which tend to vote for the “liberal” side of any proposition or race, often overcoming a “conservative” majority in almost all of the remaining counties. This picture of Missouri tends to be reflected in the two primaries. On the Democratic side, there is often a battle between St. Louis and Kansas City, On the Republican side, it is often Springfield against the Kansas City and St. Louis exurbs. On to the individual races.
The Senate race is the one least likely to have a close primary. While Senator Blunt is not the most popular Senator in the country, none of his opponents in the primary have the type of money or name recognition to win. (I did actually see a sign for one of his opponents, but one single sign is not an indicator of a viable candidate.) The likely Democratic candidate is the current Secretary of State, Jason Kander. Secretary Kander is a young veteran who makes a nice contrast to his career politician opponent. Current polling indicates that the general election might be close.
The governor race is a complete cluster on the Republican side. As in the 2012 Senate race, you have multiple Republican candidates; each of whom is trying to run as the most conservative candidate. Peter Kinder is the current lieutenant governor. Looking at the possibility of a second serious primary challenge for his current position (which he has held since 2004), he opted to file for governor instead. He is the “establishment” conservative candidate (including having radio ads from family friend Rush Limbaugh). Also running is Catherine Hannaway — former Speaker of the House who got appointed as U.S. Attorney by the Bush White House after losing her race for Secretary of State against Robin Carnahan. Ms. Hannaway is one of those candidates who relied heavily on a single donor and is the other “establishment” candidate. The other two major candidates are John Brunner — a self-funding businessman and one of the people who lost the 2012 Senate primary to Todd Akins — and Eric Greitens — the functional equivalent of Donald Trump in this race, a well-funded military vet with no background in politics making it unclear what his real political beliefs are. On the Democratic side, the likely Democratic candidate is Attorney General Chris Koster — a former Republican who switched sides when the Republican Party went crazy over stem cells and union busting.
Lieutenant governor features competitive primaries on both sides. On the Republican side, Bev Randles is funded by the same donor as Catherine Hannaway (a St. Louis businessman whom made his money in real estate and is the Koch Brothers of Missouri, funding ultra-conservative candidates and conservative ballot issues). This funding for Ms. Randles is one of the reasons that Mr. Kinder is running for governor. When Kinder opted to move up, State Senator Mike Parsons moved down — figuring that he had a better chance against Ms. Randles in a one-on-one race than trying to stand out in a field of five for governor. On the Democratic side, the leading candidate is former congressman Russ Carnahan. Congressman Carnahan was the victim of redistricting in 2012 and has a big name recognition advantage (as both of his parents and his sister have run state-wide before). His most serious opponent should be State Representative Tommie Pierson. I would not be surprised to see a close contest between these two in the St. Louis area, but name recognition in the rest of the state should give Representative Carnahan the advantage. The unknown in the race is newly-elected Democratic National Committeeman Winston Apple. Mr. Apple has no experience in state-wide politics (he is also running for his first term on his own county committee) having won his DNC seats when more Sanders delegates showed up to the Missouri state convention and voted out the incumbent DNC members. Whether the Sanders organization in Missouri can deliver primary votes to somebody who lacks the resources of Senator Sanders to gain name recognition among non-activists is the question. My hunch is that Mr. Apple finishes a distant third.
Secretary of State features a two-way race on the Republican side. State Senator Will Kraus represents the conservative suburbs of Kansas City. His opponent is Jay Ashcroft, son of former Governor, Senator, and U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft from the St. Louis side of the state. On the Democratic side, the likely nominee is Robin Smith, a former news anchor from the St. Louis area.
Attorney General is a chaotic race. State Senator Kurt Schaefer is the “establishment” candidate. Originally running as a moderate Republican representing the area around the University of Missouri, he has become an ultra-conservative in recent years using his Senate position to conduct witch hunts on behalf of the far right. His opponent is Josh Hawley, a law professor, who made his name by being on the briefs in the first birth control mandate case. As both candidates are well-funded, this case has been a mud fest with both candidates trying to see what will stick. On the Democratic side, you have former State Representative and current St. Louis County Assessor Jake Zimmerman against Theresa Hensley — a former county prosecutor from the Kansas City are who was the “sacrificial lamb” candidate in 2012 for the fourth congressional district. The Democrats have much less money than the Republicans; so there has not been the money for any mudslinging. The Democratic race will come down to the numbers advantages of the St. Louis area against whatever edge could be picked up in the rural areas where nobody knows either candidate. Ultimately, this race is second in importance to the governor’s race. While most of the office’s responsibilities stay the same regardless of who holds the office (e.g., representing the state on criminal appeals), the office does have some discretion in terms of seeking out potential cases. Over the past eight years, the office has vigorously pursued consumer fraud — taking on robosigning and the scam that is extended warranties on motor vehicles. Last time that the Republicans controlled the office, the emphasis was on intervening in right to die cases. With Senator Schaeffer and Mr. Hawley, who knows what far right witch hunts would be pursued if they win.
Finally, there is State Treasurer. On the Republican side, this is the one state-wide or congressional race in which there is not even nominal competition with only State Senator Eric Schmitt running. On the Democratic side, you have Kansas City economist Pat Contreras running against former State Representative Judy Baker. Mr. Contreras got into the race early, but Representative Baker (from the central part of the state) has previously run unsuccessfully for state-wide office. Most people will not notice any difference regardless of who wins this race, but any state-wide office is a launching point for other offices. Five of the last six State Treasurers ran (two succeeding and three failing) for higher office.
The most recent polling on several of the races shows very, very close contests. On the Republican side, 35% might be enough to win the primary for governor. In the fall, the reality is that Missouri is a very purplish-red state. The Democrats win, when they win, by picking very centrist candidates and hoping that the Republicans primary voters (as they often do) go nuts and pick a candidate that turns off suburban swing voters. Given how far to the right the Republicans are running this year, the Democrats should have very good chances come November.