Primary Lessons from Missouri and Kansas

mo-sealThe primary votes in Missouri and Kansas reflect some realities of grass-roots campaigning and the current divisions in the Republican party.

On the Missouri side, “outsider” candidates won two of the three open Republican state-wide primaries.  In addition, several pro-labor Republican state representatives faced well-funded opponents after helping to defeat “right to work” legislation.  The results in these districts were mixed, but unless Democrats can win a couple more suburban seats, the risk of more anti-labor legislation remains.  In short, the Missouri Republican party (aided by the lack of any limit on donations making it easy for billionaires to run candidates that take extreme positions) is still sprinting toward the hard right.

For both parties in Missouri, the primary showed that, with some exceptions, endorsements and money are not enough to win.  On the Democratic side, in three contested open state-wide primaries, the candidates who had run for Congress before (giving them a slightly expanded area in which voters had seen their name before) won.  Additionally, one of them had run state-wide before and the other had family members who had run state-wide.  On the Republican side, the big upset was in the race for Attorney General in which the winning candidate had spent the two years before announcing his candidacy going to local Republican meetings around the state touting his credentials fighting for “religious liberty” against the federal government as a private attorney.  In short, you can’t win by simply being the one that the party establishment in the state capitol and big cities like if the voters have never heard who you are.

In Kansas, the pendulum is swinging the other way.  Having had six years of hard right government, moderate Republicans managed to win several contested primaries over incumbent extremists.  Not only did the Tea Party lose incumbents in the state legislature, the Tea Party also lost a sitting member of Congress (one of the few incumbents nationwide to lose).  Given that Representative Tim Huelskamp represented the First District (covering the vast rural expanse of Western Kansas).  Representative Huelskamp’s three terms of obstructionism in Congress came to a blazing end in a 56%-44% defeat.

Nationally, the problem is that most Americans have not had the experience of living under the type of Republican misgovernment that the Tea Party has given the folks of Kansas.  In Kansas, the traditional Republicans are fighting back against this hostile takeover of the Republican Party.  In the rest of the country, including Missouri, the traditional Republicans do not know what to do with Donald Trump and the legion of Donald Trump wannabes.  Politics work best when both parties have serious ideas and legislative bodies try to work out compromises that take the best from the proposals of both parties.  When one party is off in the clouds proposing an $8-10 trillion tax cut that benefits billionaires while leaving average people to pay off the increased debt, the system breaks down.

With the current dysfunction in the Republican Party, it is critical for the Democrats to not only win the White House, but also to take back control of the Senate (and by a margin large enough to create the possibility of breaking a filibuster) and the House.  The fight for the House is going to come down to a large number of Republican-leaning suburban districts around the country.   This effort will take a lot of leg work on the ground as well as convincing Republican-leaning independents that today’s Republican Party is not the Republican Party that they have supported in the past.  Fortunately, Donald Trump is helping us daily.


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