A Missouri political expert thinks Republican control of statewide offices is dependent on voter satisfaction with the party’s performance in Washington.
The GOP swept all five state seats in contention during last month’s election, ousting four Democrats in the process.
University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) Political Scientist Dave Robertson points out Republicans will be held accountable for anything that happens, good or bad, nationally and within the state over the next two years.
He notes the party in power usually loses some support during that time frame. But he says whether or not Democrats regain statewide seats will depend on where Republicans stand nationally in 2020. “The fact that the national vote in a national election for president has such an impact, an increasing impact, on those down ballot offices, is going to make a difference in the way Missouri voters cast their votes in 2020.”
Robertson thinks Democrats can rebound if they can motivate voters. He says the party will have to have robust turnout in their strongholds – St. Louis and Jackson counties – and hold Republican margins down elsewhere.
“To win in 2020, Democrats are going to have to rely not just on their base counties, but on a much, much more competitive race across the entire state” said Robertson. “They’re going to have to be competitive in rural areas. They’re going to have to be much more competitive in the smaller cities.”
Even if Democrats are able to run as a closer minority in rural Missouri, they’ll still have to motivate voters in the urban centers.
In St. Louis County, turnout increased in 2016 over 2008, when Barak Obama won the presidency for the first time. But as Democrats won by well over 90,000 votes in 2008, the margin slipped dramatically to under 30,000 in 2016.
In the city of St. Louis, about 1,000 fewer people voted in 2016 versus 2008. Although Democrats overwhelmingly carried the city, the margin slipped from almost 60,000 in 2008 to under 50,000 in 2016.
Two metro St. Louis counties flipped from Democrat to Republican between 2008 and 2016 – St. Charles and Jefferson.
Roberts, the UMSL political scientist, thinks Democrats face another longstanding challenge in the state.
He contends the two urban areas – St. Louis and Kansas City – haven’t worked as closely together as needed to impact public policy or coordinate a political message.
“That has meant that rural legislators have been able to play, to some extent, the cities off against each other, and to get the upper hand in one of the deepest, if not the deepest cleavage in Missouri politics, which is rural versus urban.”
Democrats held five out of six statewide offices before last month’s election when Republicans swept the five seats in play.