Claire McCaskill

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) gave a concession speech to supporters at the Marriott Grand Hotel in downtown St. Louis on November 6 after losing to Josh Hawley.

Photo by Bill Greenblatt / UPI

Missouri voters sent mixed – indeed, nearly schizophrenic – signals from the voting booth on November 6. When asked to vote on policy directly, in the form of constitutional amendments and statutory propositions, they raised the minimum wage, legalized medical marijuana, and put an overhaul of state politics and districting into the state constitution. Asked to vote for a federal legislator at the top of the ticket, they voted for the Republican candidate – Josh Hawley – who will vote against and attempt to undo those very policies. In the most closely watched – and expensive race – on the Missouri ballot, incumbent U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) got beat by a pro-Trump Republican challenger by nearly 150,000 votes.

Several people lay down on the floor at the Marriott Grand Hotel in downtown St. Louis

and cried during McCaskill's concession speech. We hope they were weeping over the political malpractice of her campaign strategy.

Michael Butler, who became the first African American to be elected as St. Louis recorder of deeds on November 6, saw McCaskill’s defeat coming when North Side polls thinned out later in the day. “Missouri Democrats running statewide depend heavily on late returns from North St. Louis and North St. Louis County,” Butler told The American. “In 2006, 2008, and 2012 most Democrats statewide were losing the election until the returns from these mostly African-American counties came in late in the night. We saw this in 2016. When those returns don’t come in, Democrats lose. I knew those late returns would not be there because the late voters that were present in 2006, 2008, and 2012 were simply not at the polls after 5 p.m.”

Though McCaskill staffed a campaign office in North County in Ferguson and stumped in North St. Louis going into the last weekend before Election Day, she was criticized throughout the campaign for spending too much time and money out-state. Some of her right-center campaign ads were used against her in ads that tried to help Hawley win by dimming Democratic enthusiasm for McCaskill. In one McCaskill ad used against her to demoralize progressives, a surrogate declared that McCaskill was “not one of those crazy Democrats.”

“There are real electoral and political reasons for this loss,” Butler said, “and also real campaign and political solutions to this as well.”

We agree. Consider that all of the progressive ballot initiatives approved by Missouri voters were much more popular than her opponent, Hawley, who beat McCaskill with 51 percent of the vote. Proposition B to raise the state’s minimum wage and Constitutional Amendment 1 to “clean up Missouri politics” both passed with 62 percent of the vote. Constitutional Amendment 2 to legalize and regulate medical marijuana passed with an even more decisive 66 percent of the vote. Had McCaskill wrapped herself in these progressive policy stands as she toured the state – and worked more closely with the grass-roots campaigns that successfully passed these measures – then Missouri Democrats would have less to cry about right now.

Also, consider that the only other Democrat on the statewide ballot – also an incumbent, state Auditor Nicole Galloway – won her election where McCaskill lost hers and garnered nearly 100,000 more votes than the Democrat at the top of the ticket. True, Galloway faced one of the most hapless statewide candidates in recent memory. Saundra McDowell had the gall to run for state auditor with five personal judgments against her – in recent years – for not paying her debts; she was even evicted from a home for nonpayment shortly after Galloway took office. But it says something about McCaskill and the kinds of campaigns she runs that she came to rely upon having a Saundra McDowell or Todd Akin as an opponent to win.

At the end of the night, McCaskill told her supporters, “This is good night but not goodbye.” If she was hinting at another run for higher office, could we please, please accept that the future for Democrats in Missouri lies in a new generation of forward-looking leadership, not someone stuck in failed strategies of the past?

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