Now that the dust has started to settle after Tuesday’s election, what lessons will Missouri Democrats take away from the loss of the U.S. Senate seat?
Well, let’s start with the obvious: No more purple fantasies, Missouri is now solidly a red state. And not just red, Trump red.
Donald Trump is hugely popular in this state. His fiery, outlandish, and often racist rhetoric fires up the Republican base like nothing we have on the Democratic side. His visits to the state and strong support of Josh Hawley contributed to Hawley’s decisive victory over incumbent Claire McCaskill.
McCaskill’s internal polling surely must have warned her about Trump’s effect on her race. That’s probably why she shifted so far to the right, running commercials about border security and steering clear of topics that appealed directly to black and progressive voters out of fear of offending Trump-leaning voters in rural and suburban Missouri.
But, of course, that kind of campaign doesn’t fire up your own Democratic base. We saw that here in north St. Louis where turnout, while higher than past midterm elections, was nowhere near as high as south side voting numbers. Most north side voters stayed home on Tuesday. Not one north side ward had a turnout higher than 49%. In contrast, seven south side wards had turnouts higher than 68%.
The Missouri Democratic Party didn’t have a message or a candidate that appealed to either black urban voters or white rural voters. That’s a bad place to be.
McCaskill ran as a conservative and lost. Some progressive Democrats say the party needs to go further to the left and be true to its progressive roots. But that ignores the clear trend that the state is on. The simple fact is, progressives are outnumbered in this state.
There was a bit of good news Tuesday. State Auditor Nicole Galloway won her race. She will now be the only Democrat elected statewide. But her victory wasn’t anything to write home about. She won just 50.4% of the vote against a no-name, placeholder candidate whose only thing going for her was the R next to her name.
Hope may lay in the passage of Amendment 1, which will change how state house and senate districts are drawn. The Amendment passed overwhelmingly with 62% of the statewide vote (80% in St. Louis City). In the past, Republicans have used the redistricting process to draw district maps that make it tough for Democrats to win across the state. With this new process, perhaps Democrats can start to rebuild from the ground up.
But in the meantime, party leaders are going to have to ask themselves some very tough questions. Questions like:
Are resources better spent trying to convert Trump voters to Democratic voters, or trying to convert inactive and unlikely black voters and urban progressive voters into engaged likely voters?
Are we truly the “Big Tent” party and are the people in our tent feeling respected and appreciated? (Or are they being written off as “crazy Democrats” and being thrown under the bus?)
What happens over the next few months and years will determine whether Democrats will lead again in this state. But if that is to happen it must start with engagement with the base and rebuilding the state party from the ground up.
Too many Democrats, some privately and some not-so-privately, were rooting for McCaskill to lose. That’s an indication of a greater problem in the party.
As the “Big Tent” party, one that supposedly welcomes all people and embraces diversity while the other guys talk about building walls and vilifies and dehumanizes people not like them, Missouri Democrats need to have a “Coming to Jesus Meeting” where all Democrats, from the “crazy” ones to the conservative ones, can begin to heal and plan for the future. Because when it’s time for the next big fight, we want our friends inside the tent pissing out, not outside the tent pissing in.