Three primaries held in Missouri and Michigan last week produced nominees who are all but assured of joining the 109th Congress when it convenes in January.
While former Kansas City (Mo.) Mayor Emanuel Cleaver (D), Missouri state Rep. Russ Carnahan (D) and former Michigan state Sen. Joe Schwarz (R) all face opposition in November, the partisanship of their respective districts so heavily tilts in each’s favor it would take a catastrophic collapse for any of them not to be elected.
Cleaver, 59, is the most high profile of the three de facto new Members, having served as Kansas City mayor from 1991 to 1999.
After leaving office due to term limits, Cleaver began hosting a radio talk show in the Kansas City area. He also is the pastor at St. James United Methodist Church, which boasts a membership of more than 2,000 parishioners in the Kansas City area.
Cleaver will face wealthy businesswoman Jeanne Patterson (R) in the fall after besting former Council on Foreign Relations fellow Jamie Metzl (D) 60 percent to 40 percent in the Aug. 3 primary.
“We expected to win the race because we had done polling early on and knew where I stood with the voters and the fact that my opponent was not known at all,” said Cleaver.
Metzl was faced with a difficult task of trying to introduce himself to voters while simultaneously bringing into question Cleaver’s qualifications for the job.
While Cleaver responded by decrying the tone of the Metzl campaign, he also sought to stay above the fray, relying on his name identification and good will built up during eight years as mayor.
He also benefited from the strong support of the Congressional Black Caucus, led by Missouri Rep. William Lacy Clay (D). Cleaver is expected to join the CBC when he arrives in Washington next year.
Although Cleaver enters the general election as a heavy favorite in a district that gave Al Gore 60 percent in 2000, he insisted he is taking nothing for granted.
“In all of my talks since Tuesday night I have said to people, ‘Please do not refer to me as the presumptive Member of Congress from Missouri’s 5th district,’” Cleaver said. “I don’t want the voters who are prone to support me the strongest to relax.”
Cleaver clearly has begun to plan for a career in Congress, however.
In a call with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) following his victory, Cleaver said “with a slight smile that I knew she would work to put me on the Appropriations Committee.”
Cleaver also mentioned an interest in serving on the Energy and Commerce Committee or the Armed Services Committee. “I would love to be a student of [Missouri Democratic Rep.] Ike Skelton,” Cleaver said. Skelton is the ranking member on Armed Services.
Across the state in the St. Louis-based 3rd district, Carnahan’s victory furthers one of the nation’s most well-known political legacies.
The son of the late Gov. Mel Carnahan and former Sen. Jean Carnahan as well as the grandson of former Rep. A.S.J. Carnahan, Russ Carnahan entered the race to replace Rep. Richard Gephardt (D) as the heavy favorite. His sister, Robin, is the party’s nominee for Missouri secretary of state.
“There is a tremendous amount of good will from my own service in the state legislature and from my father and my mother’s service,” Carnahan said Friday.
In a contest largely ignored by voters, Carnahan claimed a 1,700-vote victory over Washington University professor Jeff Smith.
Carnahan won none of the four distinct areas in the district, losing St. Louis and St. Louis County to Smith and St. Genevieve and Jefferson to state Sen. Steve Stoll. But, by placing second or third in each, he was able to secure the 23 percent of the vote that delivered him a victory. Smith took 21 percent while both Stoll and former state Rep. Joan Barry took 18 percent.
“A 10-way race is a weird thing,” said Carnahan. “Our strategy from the very beginning was to carry my home district and come in second place in everyone else’s home area.”
Carnahan faces perennial candidate Bill Federer (R), after the GOPer cruised to a primary victory with 75 percent of the vote.
Federer has run for the 3rd district twice before against Gephardt.
In 1998, he received 42 percent while spending less than $200,000. The next cycle, Federer spent better than $2 million but took just 40 percent.
Despite Federer’s fundraising capacity, Carnahan seems likely to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, who represented the Show Me State from 1944 to 1958.
Carnahan’s political rise has been a quick one. He was first elected to the state House in 2000 in a district entirely contained in the 3rd district.
Carnahan follows in the footsteps of Gephardt, who has held the 3rd district since 1976, during which time he has twice run unsuccessfully for president and served as the leader of his party for much of the past decade.
While Carnahan said he has not given much thought to committee assignments, a spot on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee would be a good fit for his district.
In Michigan, Schwarz is all but guaranteed to replace Rep. Nick Smith (R) in the 7th.
While Schwarz’s five more conservative opponents piled on him from the day he entered the race, he ultimately bested them all by honing in on his hometown of Battle Creek and Calhoun and Eaton counties, which he represented in the state Senate, and by letting them splinter the conservative vote.
In the end, the race came down to Schwarz and attorney Brad Smith, the son of the retiring Congressman.
“It turned out very similar to our plan, which makes us look relatively perceptive,” Schwarz said Friday. “We always expected it would come down to Smith and we based our strategy on that eventuality.”
Schwarz won with 28 percent of the vote, followed by Smith at 23 percent, former state Rep. Tim Walberg with 18, state Rep. Clark Bisbee at 14 percent, state Rep. Gene DeRossett with 11 and former state Rep. Paul DeWeese at 7 percent.
While Smith had the Washington, D.C.-based Club for Growth bundling donations for him, Schwarz had the League of Conservation Voters and Republican Main Street Partnership independently running television ads on his behalf and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) personally stumping for him.
“After the endorsement they said they would be there for me and by golly they were,” Schwarz said of the environmental group, which spent more than $400,000 on his behalf.
Schwarz attributed the win to all of the groups and people who helped him and had special thanks for McCain. Schwarz, a Vietnam veteran, spearheaded McCain’s 2000 presidential primary win in Michigan.
“McCain is a great and good friend and I am eternally grateful to all the personal help he gave us,” Schwarz said.
Schwarz does not want to look past his Democratic opponent, Sharon Renier, but was willing to say what topics he hopes to work on in Congress if elected.
Schwarz has a varied résumé of experience and interests.
As a practicing physician, he is an expert on health care and would like to serve on committees overseeing health issues, he said. He also has a background in higher education and, as a former CIA operative, national security. He also has a strong interest in transportation issues, especially rail.
“I understand how much say a freshman has in committee assignments so I will take whatever I get and be happy,” Schwarz said.