Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Ballots Offer Voters Plenty of Options; GOP Senate Race, 1st Congressional District Are Hotly Contested; ELECTIONS 2012: Missouri Primary

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Ballots Offer Voters Plenty of Options; GOP Senate Race, 1st Congressional District Are Hotly Contested; ELECTIONS 2012: Missouri Primary

Article excerpt

For St. Louis' new 1st Congressional District, Tuesday's election is a primary in name only. In reality, the bitter in-party fight between congressmen Russ Carnahan and William Lacy Clay for the Democratic nomination will almost certainly be the final word, returning one of them to Washington.

Missouri's GOP primary for the U.S. Senate, on the other hand, isn't the end of the real battle, but the beginning. Regardless of which of the three major Republicans emerges to challenge incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill, it will start a general election contest that could ultimately determine control of the Senate.

Tuesday's primaries will choose nominees across Missouri, for offices from governor to the Legislature to City Hall. The lieutenant governor's office, often derided as powerless, has nonetheless drawn a dozen candidates in both major parties. The exit of St. Louis' scandal-plagued Treasurer Larry Williams has prompted a four-way fight among Democrats.

Voters in many communities also will decide nonpartisan local races and issues, including tax hikes and bonds for public projects.

Primaries are the semifinals of politics. They weed out the field to pick one nominee from each party, for each office, setting up the final contests for the November general election.

"It's actually a confusing process for voters. There are so many candidates involved, and the choices can be hard," said Ken Warren, a political science professor at St. Louis University. "If you're a Republican or a Democrat, normally partisanship determines your vote choice. But in the primaries, they might be quite torn."

Two of the highest-profile offices - U.S. president and St. Louis mayor - won't be on Tuesday's ballots. Voters expressed their presidential preferences earlier this year, and St. Louis residents won't start winnowing the field for mayor until next year.


The Clay-Carnahan race pits two established Democratic congressmen against each other for St. Louis' one remaining congressional seat, a fight forced by a new Republican-drawn district map. With the city's overwhelming Democratic base, the winner of the primary is the all-but-automatic winner of the general election three months later.

At stake is not just two political careers, but two family legacies. Clay is the son and successor of former longtime U.S. Rep. Bill Clay, D-St. Louis. Carnahan is the son of the late Democratic Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan. The two elder politicians were friends and allies, as were their sons, until this year's primary drew them into the current fight.

Carnahan maintains that Clay sided with Republicans in allowing the city to lose a district, nudging Carnahan out of his seat. Clay says Carnahan should have challenged the Republicans in the neighboring new 2nd Congressional District, rather than challenging a fellow Democrat. Carnahan has criticized Clay for his support of, and donations from, the rent-to-own industry. Clay has called Carnahan a friend of Wall Street for backing federal bailout legislation.

The new district has a slight African-American majority. Both candidates say race isn't an issue, while both have subtly made it one.

Clay, who is black, has said that electing a white candidate to a city seat that's been held by a black incumbent for two generations would be a setback for St. Louis African-Americans. Carnahan, who is white, has pressed the argument that he would be a better representative of black constituents because of Clay's alleged allegiance to predatory lenders.


In the Senate race, the top Republican contenders are U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, businessman John Brunner and former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman. All three tout essentially identical conservative positions on most issues, so they've tried to differentiate in other ways: Akin on having one of the most conservative voting records in Congress; Brunner on his business experience as former CEO of Vi- Jon personal care products; and Steelman on her rural Tea Party base. …

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