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As Missouri turns red, Democrats search for relevance

Kurt Erickson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch on

Published in News & Features

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Democrats in Missouri, once a potent force in state politics, were relegated to the wilderness by Missouri voters in Tuesday's midterm elections.

Just two years ago, the Show-Me state had Democratic officeholders spread throughout state government. Offices of the governor, secretary of state, treasurer, auditor, attorney general and U.S. Senate were all in Democratic hands.

Now, Auditor Nicole Galloway, who won Tuesday over Republican Saundra McDowell, is the lone Democrat standing after U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill lost her re-election bid to Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley.

And, analysts say, there is no clear path back to relevance in a state in which rural red areas are becoming more dominant in deciding the outcome of statewide races.

"The playing field for Democrats looks terrible for Democrats this morning," University of Missouri-St. Louis political scientist Dave Robertson said Wednesday.

Up until two years ago, Democrats were able to win by cobbling together coalitions of urban and suburban voters and identifying with residents in some areas that have now turned deep red.

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In 2016, for example, then-Attorney General Chris Koster was able to gain the support of Republican-leaning organizations such as the Missouri Farm Bureau and the National Rifle Association in his quest to beat Republican Eric Greitens.

But Trump's 19-point victory that year, and Greitens' outsider campaign, erased the crossover appeal of Koster's candidacy.

In the case of Galloway, her vote totals show her winning in the Democratic strongholds of the St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia areas, but failing to pick up many counties in the rest of the state. If not for her Republican opponent's well-documented financial problems, Galloway's election night might have mirrored McCaskill's.

Robertson said the future for Democrats would depend largely on picking the right candidates and finding cracks to fill in the Republican agenda on issues such as economic stability.

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