The Minor Leagues

We’ve wrapped up our “Campaign Watch” series with the programs we aired yesterday and the 24-minute discussion we posted with our analysts, longtime political columnists Jo Mannies of the St. Louis Beacon and Steve Kraske of the Kansas City Star. We’ve covered a lot of ground in the last four months. 

All of the discussions are archived on Search for “Campaign Watch” and you should find them all, dating back to those innocent Tuesday days when Sarah and John and Todd were debating which one of them would be the Republican shoo-in for Claire McCaskill’s seat and when we were discussing two businessmen who would pour millions of their own dollars into the races for Senate and Governor.

One of the things we discussed in our last “Campaign Watch” was the need that both parties have for minor leagues where future players can be developed. Clearly, Republicans need to find a system where future candidates for statewide office can be cultivated into winners. Democrats need to find a system where future candidates can win legislative seats. Democrats have never been in such a minority position in the House as they are now. And holding onto the  pickup of two seats in the Senate, one through redistricting, is hardly a sure thing in 2014.

Self-funding didn’t work this time for John Brunner and for Dave Spence who together sank about 13- or 14-million dollars into their races, combined. While they might not have won, they might well have contributed to the GOP gains in the House.

Claire McCaskill did not want to face John Brunner in the general election. She admitted she feared his unlimited supply of campaign money that would overwhelm her fund-raising in a race where she already was an underdog. And Jay Nixon held onto his dollars to the end for a similar reason although he was never in the underdog position McCaskill was in.  He was, however, facing a candidate who dumped more than $2.5 million dollars of his own money into the campaign in the last weeks.

Nixon had another explanation for not helping other Democrats. He reasons helping other candidates in his party would harm his working relationships with Republican legislators.  Nixon says it helps if they know he will not come out of sensitive meetings to talk about budgets and important legislation trying to figure out “how to whip them right on the other side of it.”

There might be room for some skepticism about that response, given the late-campaign commercials from several legislative Republicans criticizing Nixon for not working with the GOP. So there might be a more practical reason behind Nixon’s rationale.

In some previous elections, candidates at the top of the ticket who do not feel threatened in the closing days of their races sometimes donate some of their campaign funds to legislative candidates or to their parties to help others who might be fighting off a tough local challenger or candidates who might win with a little financial boost at the end. Neither McCaskill nor Nixon could afford to do that. The only candidate who did was Chris Koster, who gave a few thousand dollars to the House Democratic Campaign Committee, a move we reporters interpreted to mean he wasn’t that worried about Ed Martin’s efforts.

Our friend Rudi Keller of the Columbia Daily Tribune has noted that Democrats lost nine of 15 state representative races in which the outcome was five percent or less. Former Senator Ken Jacob, who was hoping to get elected to the House, told Keller that another $25,000 or $50,000 might have changed the result in his race. He lost by 329 votes in a district where 15,561 votes were cast. Jacob says he could afford only one direct mail piece for voters in his district. Winner Caleb Rowden sent out 18.

So Democrats, who were pressured at the top of the ticket by millionaire self-funded candidates, got no help from McCaskill or Nixon for down-ballot candidates. The Democrats have only 53 members of the House now. The last time any party had fewer was 1987, when Republicans had only 52. And if Governor Nixon vetoes a priority Republican bill next year, the Republicans do not have to worry about whether they can get some cross-aisle support for a veto override.

So in the longer run, the self-funded millionaire candidates might not have won, but they might have made their party and its supporting interests winners.

Now both parties face a future needing to develop talent. Republicans need to develop a minor league system to develop candidates that can win at the top. Democrats need to find a way to develop a farm system that will let them re-take the legislature.

We talked about some of the names we might see at the top of the ballot in 2016 in our last “Campaign Watch.” But in truth, we’re only guessing. Politics exists in the fickle world of public opinion. Seeing how public opinion moves and shifts and seeing what moves and shifts it is what makes reporting of politics fun.

Onward to 2016.

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One thought on “The Minor Leagues

  1. Excellent article. Priddy hit the nail on the head. House Republicans out raised House Democrats 5 to 1. Republicans got money from their US Congressman. Cleaver, Clay, and Nixon could have raised $1.5 million if they had wanted.

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