Although most Missouri political observers are focused on Tuesday’s high-profile battle between Gov. Bob Holden (D) and state Auditor Claire McCaskill (D), two Congressional primaries on opposite ends of the Show Me State will, for all intents and purposes, two new Democratic Members of Congress.
In Missouri’s 5th district, which is based in Kansas City, and the 3rd district, centered on St. Louis, Democrats are engaged in hand-to-hand combat as they fight to win open-seat contest in districts that will strongly favor their party in the fall.
The 5th district race has featured blistering attacks by former Council on Foreign Relations fellow Jamie Metzl on former Kansas City Mayor Emanuel Cleaver.
Despite Metzl’s attacks, which have centered on Cleaver’s failure to pay back taxes and workman’s compensation at a car wash he owns, the former mayor holds wide leads in recent public — and private — polling.
“We take nothing for granted particularly when most politicians here say they have never seen anyone with the persistent attack of my opponent in the history of the 5th Congressional district,” said Cleaver.
Metzl spokesman Maurice Henderson dismissed the public polling as inaccurate.
“If you ask the political insiders they were shocked by those poll numbers,” he said.
Cleaver entered the race as the prohibitive favorite in the race due to his time as Kansas City mayor from 1991 to 1999.
He is using those establishment ties in a bus tour that was scheduled to take him to six cities in the 5th district over the weekend.
Missouri Rep. William Lacy Clay, former Sen. Jean Carnahan (Mo.) and Nona Bolling, the widow of late Rep. Dick Bolling, who held the 5th district for 34 years, will accompany Cleaver’s fitness for office.
Metzl, a newcomer to electoral politics, has run the more aggressive campaign; he has outraised Cleaver $905,000 to $589,000 but has been seemingly unable to simultaneously introduce himself to voters and raise questions about Cleaver.
Republicans have a five-way primary but wealthy businesswoman Jeanne Patterson is expected to emerge as the nominee. Patterson has given her campaign more than $550,000.
While national Republicans express some interest in the race, the district gave Al Gore 60 percent of the White House vote in 2000. Rep. Karen McCarthy (D) held it easily for 10 years before choosing to retire after a battery of negative press relating to her struggles with alcohol and rampant staff turnover.
Another factor on the Democratic side is that Missouri has an open primary law, meaning that Republicans and independents can weigh in on the Cleaver-Metzl matchup.
Henderson argued that because voters understand that the Democratic nominee is the heavy favorite in November, many Republicans and independents will opt to cast their ballot in that race, which, he believes, will accrue to Metzl’s benefit.
Across the state, 10 Democrats have struggled to distinguish themselves in the open-seat race to replace former Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D).
Because the race has had such a low profile, state Rep. Russ Carnahan — the son of late Gov. Mel Carnahan and former Sen. Jean Carnahan — appears to be the favorite tomorrow although knowledgeable strategists caution that with such a large undecided vote any of four candidates could win.
“We feel very good about where things stand,” said Carnahan campaign manager Allen Todd. “Everyone has shown that we are the frontrunner because they have been ganging up on us in the last week.”
Carnahan has been hit on his attendance record in the state Legislature and his accomplishments during that time, Todd said. He was elected to the state House in 2000.
Aside from Carnahan, former state Rep. Joan Barry, state Sen. Steve Stoll and Washington University professor Jeff Smith are seen as real contenders in the race.
Carnahan, Barry and Smith are all on television in hopes of currying favor with the vast undecided pool of voters.
Carnahan’s ads tout him as the only Democrat in the race who is both pro-abortion rights and pro-gun rights.
Barry may benefit from being the only woman among the leading contenders.
Seeking to emphasize that uniqueness Barry’s current ad touts her work on women’s health issues, including legislation that “guarantees a woman’s right to see her own Ob-Gyn.” That deft use of language, emphasizing a woman’s right to choose her own doctor belies the fact that Barry opposes abortion rights.
Smith has come from nowhere, using the strength of an endorsement by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D) to court the progressive community. In his latest campaign commercial, Smith is shown running from event to event and even playing basketball.
Stoll does not have a presence on television but remains a possible winner due to his base in the more rural counties of St. Genevieve and Jefferson.