Three primaries held in Missouri and Michigan last week produced nominees who are all but assured of joining the 109th Congress when it convenes in January.
While former Kansas City (Mo.) Mayor Emanuel Cleaver (D), Missouri state Rep. Russ Carnahan (D) and former Michigan state Sen. Joe Schwarz (R) all face opposition in November, the partisanship of their respective districts so heavily tilts in each’s favor it would take a catastrophic collapse for any of them not to be elected.
Cleaver, 59, is the most high profile of the three de facto new Members, having served as Kansas City mayor from 1991 to 1999.
After leaving office due to term limits, Cleaver began hosting a radio talk show in the Kansas City area. He also is the pastor at St. James United Methodist Church, which boasts a membership of more than 2,000 parishioners in the Kansas City area.
Cleaver will face wealthy businesswoman Jeanne Patterson (R) in the fall after besting former Council on Foreign Relations fellow Jamie Metzl (D) 60 percent to 40 percent in the Aug. 3 primary.
“We expected to win the race because we had done polling early on and knew where I stood with the voters and the fact that my opponent was not known at all,” said Cleaver.
Metzl was faced with a difficult task of trying to introduce himself to voters while simultaneously bringing into question Cleaver’s qualifications for the job.
While Cleaver responded by decrying the tone of the Metzl campaign, he also sought to stay above the fray, relying on his name identification and good will built up during eight years as mayor.
He also benefited from the strong support of the Congressional Black Caucus, led by Missouri Rep. William Lacy Clay (D). Cleaver is expected to join the CBC when he arrives in Washington next year.
Although Cleaver enters the general election as a heavy favorite in a district that gave Al Gore 60 percent in 2000, he insisted he is taking nothing for granted.
“In all of my talks since Tuesday night I have said to people, ‘Please do not refer to me as the presumptive Member of Congress from Missouri’s 5th district,’” Cleaver said. “I don’t want the voters who are prone to support me the strongest to relax.”
Cleaver clearly has begun to plan for a career in Congress, however.
In a call with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) following his victory, Cleaver said “with a slight smile that I knew she would work to put me on the Appropriations Committee.”
Cleaver also mentioned an interest in serving on the Energy and Commerce Committee or the Armed Services Committee. “I would love to be a student of [Missouri Democratic Rep.] Ike Skelton,” Cleaver said. Skelton is the ranking member on Armed Services.
Across the state in the St. Louis-based 3rd district, Carnahan’s victory furthers one of the nation’s most well-known political legacies.
The son of the late Gov. Mel Carnahan and former Sen. Jean Carnahan as well as the grandson of former Rep. A.S.J. Carnahan, Russ Carnahan entered the race to replace Rep. Richard Gephardt (D) as the heavy favorite. His sister, Robin, is the party’s nominee for Missouri secretary of state.