Missouri Democrats get into fighting spirit at Jefferson-Jackson dinner
Leaders of the Missouri Democratic Party used the annual Jefferson-Jackson dinner as a rallying cry to stand together against well-funded Republican opposition, even though the political environment may be less hospitable compared to four years ago.
For U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and others speaking at one of the Missouri Democratic Party’s biggest fundraising events, conventional wisdom about Missouri being treacherous for Democrats doesn't wash.
“They don’t know how damn tough the Democrats are in Missouri,” said McCaskill, D-Mo., to loud applause.
The determined tone was common for Democratic speakers Friday night at the Renaissance Grand Hotel in downtown St. Louis. The crowd of about 400 people also heard from Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat who possesses some rhetorical and electoral commonalities with Gov. Jay Nixon.
While McCaskill is considered one of the more politically vulnerable incumbents running for re-election this cycle, Republicans haven’t coalesced around a candidate as of yet. And even though Nixon leads in terms of fundraising and independent polling, he faces the prospect of a Republican opponent who could provide plenty of his own money in the general election.
There are also some fissures in the St. Louis area, where Democrats are seeing initial jabs in the battle for the 1st congressional district between U.S. Reps. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, and William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis. There are also competitive primaries for local state House and Senate districts, as well as an eight-way scramble to become the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor.
Still, most of the party's big-ticket races are set. McCaskill, Nixon, Attorney General Chris Koster and Treasurer Clint Zweifel face no major primary opponents, while state Rep. Jason Kander, D-Kansas City, appears to be the presumptive Democratic nominee in the race for secretary of state.
And those at Friday's dinner say they are confident that Democrats can emerge triumphant, especially if candidates can provide an appealing message to middle-class voters.
“The multinational corporations are not going to cast a vote in this election cycle,” said Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders, the chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party. “The reality is, we are going to decide who wins that race. The people in this room are going to decide who wins this race. And what we are going to show this November is that the state of Missouri is not for sale to multinational corporations.”
President Barack Obama’s campaign made an aggressive push to try to win Missouri back in 2008, an effort that included investment in on-the-ground organizers, television ads and appearances from the then-Illinois senator. Obama ended up losing the state narrowly to U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., even though he won the overall election by a comfortable margin.
Obama’s campaign may not make a big investment in the Show Me State this time around, which could affect candidates such as McCaskill or Nixon, as well as down-ballot hopefuls such as Kander, Koster or Zweifel. But that hasn't stopped Republicans from accumulating the finances necessary to compete.
McCaskill has already faced an onslaught of third-party ads and her eventual Republican opponent – which will likely be U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, former Treasurer Sarah Steelman or Frontenac businessman John Brunner – could see a boost in fundraising after the Aug. 7 primary.
Two Republican candidates for governor – Dave Spence and Fred Sauer – have poured their own money into their campaigns. On Friday, one of Kander’s potential rivals – House Speaker Pro Tem Shane Schoeller, R-Willard – nabbed a $150,000 donation from retired financier Rex Sinquefield.
That financial landscape wasn’t lost on people speaking to the roughly 400 people gathered the event. McCaskill, for instance, noted that her mother – Betty Anne McCaskill – was incensed over third-party advertisements from American Crossroads, a Super PAC organized by political strategist Karl Rove.
“She was spittin’ mad,” said McCaskill, who also noted that her mother’s health was still tenuous. “She was like – you need to give me his phone number. I said ‘excuse me?’ She said ‘I want Karl Rove’s phone number.'
“That’s the kind of stuff that could be a bad story,” she quipped.
McCaskill harshly criticized the three Republicans running against her, arguing among other things that any of them would threaten programs such as Medicare and Social Security.
“Three of a kind, one in the same,” she said. “Let me tell you what they all agree on. They’re not debating each other. They all agree… that they want to rush as far to the edge of the right wing they possibly can to demonstrate that they are more conservative than the other.”
Secretary of State Robin Carnahan went a step further, noting that the three major candidates running against McCaskill are trying to “out-crazy” each other in order to gain a foothold with conservative primary voters.
“I don’t know who it’s going to be, it be another multi-millionaire who’s never run for anything before – I don’t think he’s going to be looking out for the middle class,” said Carnahan, alluding to Brunner.
[Brunner spokesman Todd Abrajano tweeted that Carnahan – who isn’t running for a third term as secretary of state – “is just jealous of Missouri’s next senator.” He then used the hashtags #CouldntBeatBlunt and #NoMoreCarnahans, a reference to Caranahan’s unsuccessful bid in 2010 against U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri.]
In any case, McCaskill's remaining remarks included a plea to Beshear to send a message to people such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky.
"Let the word go out that this room and thousands of others like you are going to show them that big money cannot buy this election," McCaskill said. "That hard work will get it done. Determination will get it done. And we will bring this election home. Not for me. Not for Jay Nixon. But for all of you and your families and the faceless thousands of Missourians who just need someone championing their cause."
Peas in a pod?
When Nixon presented Beshear, he quipped that he “felt like he was introducing himself.” That’s not only because the two chief executives have some conservative sensibilities, but also that they’ve been able to get elected in Republican-leaning states.
“If so, maybe we can consider this next piece a little bit of foreshadowing,” Nixon said. “Last November, Gov. Beshear was up for re-election. And political pundits said, ‘Oh, it’s Kentucky – difficult state for Democrats. Gov. Beshear may be in trouble. Well not so much, because he works hard.”
After coming back from political exile in 2007 to win the governorship, Beshear faced off against Republican David Williams in his bid for re-election. In attempt to draw a parallel with Nixon’s possible battle with Spence, Beshear noted that Williams received $4 million in assistance from his father-in-law. Beshear ended up trouncing Williams by a comfortable margin.
“Four million dollars later, I hope his marriage is still strong,” said Beshear, to laughter.
Beshear said one of Nixon’s opponents “doesn’t need to take a contribution, he can fund his own race out of his own pocket,” a reference to Spence’s $2 million donation to his campaign.
“That’s why this ticket must rely on everybody in this room to get this job done,” Beshear said. “They need you. They need you out there knocking on doors and calling your friends, your family and your neighbors about this election. And this ticket’s going to be right there with you to help you to do that. We need you to work hard for every Democrat on the ballot in the great state of Missouri.”
Nixon for the most part skipped making references to his opponents, even though many other speakers took turns criticizing Spence. He instead emphasized what he felt were positives about the past legislative session.
Today, for instance, he announced that he would withhold money for higher education institutions in the state, which he referenced in his speech. But he also noted while he had some differences with the GOP-controlled General Assembly in budgetary priorities, he added that the two parties were able to agree on much.
“We came together on 98 percent of budget. And that’s good for Missouri and that’s a rare thing in today’s politics,” Nixon said. “Actually coming together and resolving our differences like adults, all around the country that’s just not happening. We have shown that we are better than that in Missouri. We’re not just pointing fingers, we’re extending hands.”
Beshear though struck a more combative tone in the closing line of the dinner, noting the election is "critical for everyone who cares for well-paying jobs for Missouri families, quality schools for Missouri schoolchildren and honest and ethical state government."
"This election is too critical to turn back now, it's too critical for anybody in this room to sit on the sidelines" Beshear said.
"Missouri Democrats, are ya'll ready to rumble?" he added, to rapturous applause. "Are you ready to get out here and help these people? If so, get on your feet!"