As It Turns out, Race Mattered in Clay-Carnahan Primary Vote; the Prospect of Having No African-American Representative from Area Is Being Viewed as a Motivating Factor among Voters Here; ELECTIONS 2012

By Kevin McDERMOTT; Jesse Bogan; David Hunn | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), August 9, 2012 | Go to article overview

As It Turns out, Race Mattered in Clay-Carnahan Primary Vote; the Prospect of Having No African-American Representative from Area Is Being Viewed as a Motivating Factor among Voters Here; ELECTIONS 2012


Kevin McDERMOTT; Jesse Bogan; David Hunn, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


ST. LOUIS - William Lacy Clay trounced fellow Democrat Russ Carnahan with more than 90 percent of the vote in some north St. Louis wards, and beat him more than 2-to-1 in north St. Louis County, data from Tuesday's congressional primary show.

Clay and Carnahan, two sitting congressmen, battled it out for the new 1st Congressional District, St. Louis' one remaining U.S. House seat. City figures show that Clay, who is black, won the primary by dominating in largely African-American areas of St. Louis. Carnahan, who is white, drew the bulk of his support from more predominantly white wards on the south and west sides.

There were some exceptions to the larger pattern. Clay did well in upscale, mixed-race areas of the city like the Central West End. And even in the most predominantly white city wards on the south side, Carnahan never broke 78 percent.

But overall, the numbers confirm what was increasingly evident during the campaign: Race mattered.

Nearly half of the district is within the city borders. The rest of the district is largely in north St. Louis County, where Clay also handily beat Carnahan. The county did not provide vote breakdowns for individual neighborhoods.

Turnout figures varied, but in several of the wards where Clay did the best, turnout was significantly above the citywide average.

"What I'm thinking is that some of the predominantly white areas didn't turn out to the degree you might expect," said Lana Stein, former political scientist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. "There wasn't a galvanization of white residents to the degree that there was a galvanization of black residents."

The reason, she theorized, is that to many white voters, it was just another congressional contest, while to many black voters it was about the fate of the state's only congressional seat representing a majority-minority district, one that's been there for four decades. "I think that was very important," Stein said.

Clay and Carnahan were allies thrown into a fight by a new Republican-drawn congressional map that put them in the same district. Both candidates often denied that race was a factor in the contest. "I'm not going there," Clay said in a interview last month. But both went there, to some degree.

Clay gave several interviews in which he bluntly warned of a loss of black progress and influence if Carnahan won. Carnahan hammered at Clay's connection to the rent-to-own industry and its alleged damage to the black community. Both ran commercials clearly designed to woo black voters.

By the time the crowd gathered at St. Louis Gateway Classic Sports Foundation on the near north side Tuesday for Clay's election- night party, all pretense of a colorblind congressional primary had been pretty much abandoned by his supporters.

"He's a brother. He has good ideas," said Walter Grace, 67, a retired teacher of black history, who gathered with about 150 other Clay supporters, most of them African-American.

Carnahan's political family - including his father, the late Gov. Mel Carnahan - has long been allied with black city Democrats. Carnahan's decision to run against Clay this year created resentment and strained that biracial coalition, judging from the comments of others at Clay's gathering Tuesday. …

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