JOPLIN, Mo. —
Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill rallied party faithful Tuesday night in Joplin, urging them to press on in seemingly unlikely political battles.
Speaking at a fundraiser for the Southwest Missouri Democrats, McCaskill — who herself won what some considered an unlikely victory in 2012 over former U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-St. Louis — said Democrats fighting to win back seats in the Missouri General Assembly should not lose hope despite the uphill climb.
“If 2012 proved anything, it proved just because they say you can’t win doesn’t mean you can’t win,” McCaskill told about 80 residents who turned out for a meet and greet at Missouri Southern State University.
McCaskill has joined Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster in an effort to help recruit candidates to run for the state Legislature, after a decade of control by Republicans. Republicans have won supermajorities in the past two election years, despite significant statewide victories by Democrats in 2012. McCaskill said Democratic candidates will be able to use the data their campaigns gathered in 2012 to help effectively target voters in 2014 and beyond in areas where Democrats are not traditionally competitive.
McCaskill said there are a lot of “Todd Akin wannabes” in the Republican-controlled Legislature, noting their opposition to things like Medicaid expansion and efforts to increase the minimum wage, and their support of policies like “right-to-work” and “paycheck protection,” both of which aim to shrink union membership and the accompanying political clout.
“Missourians in pretty red parts of the state rejected Todd Akin’s ideology,” she said. “We need to make sure people understand he isn’t the only Republican here in Missouri that has those views. They are out of the mainstream of most Missourians.”
Democrats on Tuesday night expressed a cautious hope for potential successes after an unsuccessful recent electoral history. In 2012, McCaskill lost in Jasper County by 16 percentage points and fared even worse in neighboring Newton County. Koster, a former Republican (now the likely Democratic nominee for governor in 2016) who touts “tough-on-crime” bona fides, did not fare any better. And President Barack Obama was easily defeated locally by Republican nominee Mitt Romney. It all begs the question: Do Democrats even have a shot in Joplin?
“There was a time that people didn’t think we could win any seats in Springfield, and there is still a time where people aren’t confident we can win seats in Jasper County,” McCaskill countered. “But these guys are driving so hard to the right that it does leave an opening for a moderate, somebody who understands that you’ve got to be reasonable. Some of these folks have never been challenged, so they think being as far right and extreme as they are is a political winner. I don’t think they realize how dangerous it is politically.”
With less than a week left before candidate filing closes, Democrats have filed to challenge only two local incumbent lawmakers. Charles “Hugh” Shields filed to run in the 161st District, the seat currently held by Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin, and Michael Jarrett filed in the 163rd District, the seat currently held by Rep. Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage.
“Oftentimes around here, Republicans get to run unopposed,” said Krista Stark, who was announced Tuesday as the new executive director of the Southwest Missouri Democrats. “Not anymore.”
Jarrett was on hand, meeting with supporters at the event. He asked McCaskill at a reception earlier in the night if she had any advice for a first-time candidate in a tough district. The advice from McCaskill — who noted that she has won 21 of the 22 elections in which she has run — was to personally knock on as many doors as possible using the targeted data (which, for example, has identified voters who were certain to vote for McCaskill and voters who were persuadable) that her campaign helped the Missouri Democratic Party to develop.
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL is scheduled to be at the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce at 8:30 a.m. today for a round table with business and community leaders “to discuss city revitalization efforts following the devastating tornado in 2011.” The event is part of the senator’s weeklong “McCaskill on Main Street” tour.