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Is Russ Carnahan Eyeing Challenge to William Lacy Clay?

Did an aide to Rep. Russ Carnahan hint that the Congressman is running against fellow Missouri Democratic Rep. William Lacy Clay?

The St. Louis CBS affiliate reported this morning that a Carnahan aide said the Congressman was running “in the district he lives in.”

A Congressional redistricting plan, passed into law in May, essentially eliminated Carnahan’s district, and drew the Congressman’s home into the heavily Democratic 1st district, currently represented by Clay.

Carnahan, who has said he is running for Congress but hasn’t specified where, could run in the 1st against a fellow Member of his party or he could run in the open Republican-leaning 2nd district in suburban St. Louis.

Spokesman Sam Drzymala said the aide, who is Carnahan’s district director Jim McHugh, “misinterpreted the Congressman.”

“Anyone who is speculating about where the Congressman will run based on Republican-drawn maps is engaging in speculation and misinterpretation,” Drzymala said.

Carnahan, a member of a powerful Missouri political family, is serving his fourth term in Congress; Clay is serving his sixth.

A lawsuit alleging the new districts are illegal is winding its way through the courts.

A state Supreme Court decision on Tuesday ruled that a lower court had erred in throwing out the suit and ordered it to reconsider the lines’ legality. A decision is expected by Feb. 3.

“I have not changed my position from day one with respect to looking to the courts to come to the aid of the voters of Missouri,” Carnahan said in a statement this morning. “We are encouraged by the Supreme Court’s ruling that the lawsuit challenging these wildly gerrymandered districts has merit and, it’s just been announced it will be heard January 31st.”

He added, “I am focused on that important court case.”

But Missouri Democrats said Carnahan has been quietly keeping his options open.

“He’s been sniffing around the 1st district for a long time, ever since the map came out,” a St. Louis Democrat said.

“What he’s doing is trying to figure out what all the alternatives are and take actions that position him well for all” eventualities, another Missouri Democratic source said.

Asked about the potential dynamics of a Carnahan-Clay primary in the 1st, the source said it would be a tight race.

“Honestly,” the source said, “I think it’s a coin toss.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee would, understandably, prefer Carnahan to run in the 2nd district, where the Committee has said he would make a “strong candidate.”

Carnahan has been off the DCCC’s Frontline program, aimed at shoring up Members in competitive races, since October.

Roll Call rates the 1st district as Safe Democratic and the 2nd District as Likely Republican.

Former ambassador Ann Wagner and attorney Ed Martin are battling for the GOP nomination in the 2nd, though Wagner has the edge.

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