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.
CLAY VS. CARNAHAN
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
The new district has a slight African-American majority. Both
candidates say race isn't an issue, while both have subtly made it
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.
GOP SENATE RACE
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