ST. LOUIS—Ahead of the Democratic National Committee’s fall meeting starting Thursday in St. Louis, the chair of party implored Missouri Democrats to stand up 2024 and emerge from a proverbial political wilderness.

DNC Chair Jaime Harrison was the keynote speaker for the state party’s annual Truman Dinner held Wednesday at the Marriott Grand downtown. A sellout crowd that included the party’s three leading contenders for the U.S. Senate and the party’s leading candidate for governor, among others, heard Harrison’s plea as Democrats head into 2024 looking to crack a GOP supermajority in the General Assembly and the Republican party’s hold over every statewide office for the first time since the late 1800s.

“I know that you may think it’s bleak in Missouri. I know you may think that you’re in this wilderness. You don’t have the statewide offices that you used to have. You don’t have the governor’s office you used to have and you don’t have congressional offices that you used to have. But the one thing I have learned in life is that hope is so important. It is the fuel for change. You will win once again when you give the people in Missouri hope that things will get better,” Harrison said. 

“But in order to give people hope folks we have to stand up and not be silent…..It’s time for the good people of Missouri to stand up and to say with everything you have–enough is enough.”

Democrats spoke Wednesday of the chaotic environment in the U.S. House following the ousting of now-former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy after a motion to vacate from a member of his own party, and attempted to equate it with a Missouri State Senate which in recent years has been home to a clash between Republicans.

Absent some change in dynamics, a little over 13 months before election day in 2024, Democrats looking to retake control of the U.S. House will likely not find that path running through Missouri, where Republicans hold six of the state’s eight congressional seats. Two Republicans, U.S. Rep. Jason Smith and U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, are committee chairs (Ways and Means, and Transportation, respectively).

Bethany Mann, a Brentwood woman who challenged U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer in 2022 is running for the third district seat again.

“I knew realistically going into that race that I wasn’t going to win I wasn’t going to out-fundraise a banker,” Mann said, who described her effort as part of a longer-term plan to make Missouri more like Georgia, meaning if not blue, politically, at least a little purple.

Harrison’s remarks Wednesday point to the national party’s interest in the state’s senate race, where Marine veteran Lucas Kunce, St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell and State Sen. Karla May are the three main candidates vying to run against U.S. Sen Josh Hawley, R-Mo.

In an interview with Spectrum News, Harrison said where the race lands as a priority will ultimately be up to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee but put the onus on Missouri Democrats to contest every race.

“Just a few years ago, Missouri had a Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill, a few years ago Russ Carnahan was in Congress and so in order to get back there, you’ve got to lay the foundation right now, you gotta be fighting right now, you’ve got to be putting candidates on the ballot, you gotta be building up the bench in the state,” he said.

There are no Democrats actively campaigning for several statewide offices, including Secretary of State and Treasurer, or for the 2nd congressional district seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin. Carnahan, now the party’s chair, promised a slate of candidates for statewide offices.

“We expect those to be filled with really strong and maybe even some out of the box kind of candidates but again we think it’s a great year to be building the party in Missouri.”

Missouri Democrats here hope that when national party leaders leave St. Louis this weekend after hearing from Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday, among others, that the national party sees a path to investing in races here.

“The message to Democrats from across the country is that Missouri is not a flyover state. Missouri is a state that is flipping seats at the statehouse level. We’re about to flip a bunch of seats at the state senate level. We’re getting ballot initiatives done with overwhelming numbers and Missouri is not a state to ignore in the 24 election cycle,” said Rep. Crystal Quade, the House Minority Floor Leader who is running for Governor.

Senate Race

“Missouri is a state that had been blue for a long time and I think more and more we’re starting to see folks recognize that this state is in play. It’s going to take some work. We're going to have to do what this state is known for— Show Me— and so we’re going to get out there,” Bell said.

“I think Missouri is winnable territory and I hope the party does invest in Missouri and I hope we are able to turn Missouri blue and so the party here is a motivating factor in that effort,” said May. 

I feel pretty confident in the way we’ve been able to raise money right now. What I really want is just everyone in Missouri to realize that this is a big race, that it’s winnable and we’re really excited to take it down,” said Kunce.

News and Notes

Wednesday’s event was another opportunity for Quade to harness support in the race for Governor. She served as a sponsor of the dinner and had a speaking role. She’s the leading announced Democrat in the race for governor. Our partners at the St. Louis Business Journal reported that Springfield businessman Mike Hamra was “seriously considering” the race over the summer and expected to make a decision in the fall.

Quade voiced confidence she could consolidate support and avoid a serious primary challenge but that if one emerged, it would look far different from the GOP primary that features Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and State Sen. Bill Eigel.

State Rep. Steve Butz, D-St. Louis, who had endorsed Kunce in the Senate race before May declared for it, said he was backing May provided she’s able to prove she can raise funds like Kunce.

Speaker’s race

U.S. Rep. Mary Miller, R-Ill. was the first member of the St. Louis-area delegation in Congress to back a candidate to replace Kevin McCarthy as House Speaker Wednesday when she announced her support for fellow House Freedom Caucus member Jim Jordan.

Miller was among the HFC holdouts against McCarthy’s election as Speaker back in January when she voted for Jordan. She voted against the motion to vacate the Speaker because she opposed a potential power-sharing arrangement with Democrats, but said Wednesday Jordan “Will be a strong, conservative Speaker who can unite & lead the House through the budget battle and Biden impeachment.” 

On Thursday, Wagner said she would support House Majority Leader Steve Scalise.

“Steve is the hardest worker I know, a prolific fundraiser, and he has shown courage and grace in the face of profound adversity.  He has the experience and the conservative values necessary to lead us through this crisis and into an even stronger Republican majority in 2024. He is a man of faith, a warrior, and someone I’m proud to call a friend,” she said.

Scalise and Jordan are the two declared candidates. Republican Study Committee Chairman U.S. Rep. Kevin Hern is said to be considering it. 

The decision by U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Ill, could be one to watch. The Murphysboro Republican faces a primary challenge from former State Sen. Darren Bailey, the GOP’s 2022 nominee for Governor. Bailey said Wednesday he backed Jordan.

New poll

Ashcroft’s campaign is promoting a new Remington Research Group poll commissioned for Missouri Scout, a private political news service which shows him continuing to hold a double-digit lead over Kehoe and Eigel. 

The poll, conducted Sept. 27-28 had Ashcroft in the lead with 32%, Kehoe at 15% and Eigel at 5%. It mirrors a July poll that showed a 34-14-4 breakdown. Key in both polls is that 48% were still undecided.

The same poll asked respondents who they would vote for if the election for Lt. Governor were held today.

State Sen. Holly Thompson Rehder led the field with 20% followed by Franklin County Clerk Tim Baker with 11%, Paul Berry with 6% and Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher with 5%. The poll had 58% undecided.