It Is a warm and sparkling Wednesday afternoon which means it is time for Blogger Candidate Forum. Today The Forum would like to take look at what means to be a Democrat in a red state--with the focus on the state of Missouri. Missouri has long be a bellwether state: An indicator of how the rest of the country votes. However, in recent elections, Missouri has turned red. Missouri voters rarely got the winner of the presidential candidate. The last time was in 1956, when the state went to Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson over the eventual winner Republican incumbent President Dwight Eisenhower. The Economist once described Missouri as having an almost mythical reputation in American politics (kansascity.com; July 27, 2016; date accessed Oct. 17, 2018). What happened?
What happened was the 2008 presidential election. Republican nominee John McCain (AZ) barely beat Democratic nominee Barack Obama (IL) and the state's reputation as a bellwether state soured. If you were a Missouri politics watcher, you were not surprised by the turn of events because Missouri has not gone Democratic since 1996, when then-incumbent President Bill Clinton won the state (Ibid). Why the shift in a state that elected Democrats Senator Claire McCaskill, former Governor Jay Nixon, and Attorney General Chris Koster?
One reason is demographics. Missouri used to be a reflection of the rest of the country in terms of the minority and age distributions. According to the 2015 census data, Latinos accounted for 4.1 percent of the state's population, compared to the 17.6 percent of America's population (Ibid). Latinos typically provide a reliable Democratic voting bloc. However if Missouri's Latino population actually mirrored the overall national average, it swing state politics. The same holds true for the state's African American population: "...11.8 percent of the state population, compared to 13.3 percent nationally"(Ibid). In 2012 the state's Caucasian population overwhelmingly supported Republican nominee Mitt Romney (MA). They made up 83.3 percent of Missouri's population and 77.1 percent overall (Ibid). Missouri's population is also little older than the rest of the country: "...15.7 percent of state residents 65 and older, compared to 14.9 nationally. Older citizens are viewed as more reliable voters and opted for Romney over Obama in 2012" (Ibid).
Missouri's demographics make running as a Democrat a challenge. Essentially, Missouri has not reflected demographic changes in the United States. Former Governor Bob Holden (D) believes that "his party would be helped if the state moved past its insular tendencies. Missouri,..., needs to look beyond its own borders to people and business opportunities around the globe" (Ibid).
Another challenge is Missouri's conservative political climate which discourages the kind of investments in education and infrastructure that attracts young people who tend to vote Democrat. Sounding an optimistic note, Mr. Holden told the Kansas City Star that Missouri's bellwether status could return if...we can create the jobs that attract different cultures from around the world (Ibid).
Since 2016 Missouri completed a political transformation which witnessed rural Missourians, former solid Democrats, edge their way over to the Republican Party. Given the state's conservative tendencies, it was not a big leap. Dave Robertson, political scientist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, told the Star, It happened faster in Missouri and pretty thoroughly. This gave Republican candidates an edge in 2016 and in this year's midterm election.
As the saying goes, hindsight is 20-20; in 2016 Mr. Donald Trump won the state with 56.4 percent of the vote. This was due to former Secretay of State Hillary Clinton's decision to focus on fast growing state's with flourishing tech sectors with growing Democratic bases. This decision has negatively affected Democrats running in state races. In 2004, then Democratic nominee John Kerry (MA) opted to abandon the state and its 10 electoral votes. This decision left Claire McCaskill, then a candidate for governor, without the kind of get-out-the-vote campaign that a presidential election can deliver. Her opponent Republican Matt Blunt defeated her in a race she felt confident about. Ms. McCaskill is now an incumbent senator standing for re-election.
Another reason for the swing from bellwether to solid Republican is the culture wars. Social issues like abortion--The Daily podcast for an excellent reporting (open.spotify.com; date accessed Oct. 17, 2017)--same sex marriage, guns, and other issues resonated loudly with rural, more conservative voters. The Trump campaign took advantage of this during the 2016 cycle by focusing its activities in places with more conservative views on social issues.
Interestingly, shortly after the turn of the Millenium, the Republicans have enjoyed an unusual level of control in the Missouri General Assembly, taking pride in their veto-proof majority which allowed it to run roughshod over former Governor Nixon. Also, Republicans control the majority of the state's eight seats in the House of Representatives.
Despite or In spite of this fact, Democrats have demostates an amazing ability to win higher offices. The Republicans' tendencies towards divisive primaries have lead to the elections of Senator McCaskill, former Gov. Nixon and AG Chris Koster.
Another factor in the Republicans favor is television adverts. Really. Missouri has a very inefficient television advertising purchase presidential, or any campaign, menu. For example, buy ad time in Kanasas City and about half of the households reached have not voted Democrat since 1964. Buy ad time in St. Louis and there is carry over into Illinois.
What does it mean to be a Democrat in red state like Missouri? The consensus seems to be that a Democrat cannot win in the state. That is a very defeatist attitude. In order to mount a credible campaign, Missouri Democrats will have get rid of their absolutist progressive politics and embrace the more conservative wing of the party. Yes, Conservative Democrats do exist and they need to be heard.