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Storied Political Families Square Off in Missouri

Russ Carnahan and William Lacy Clay Will Battle for 1st District

Kelley McCall/Associated Press
Rep. William Lacy Clay (above) will face fellow Missouri Democratic Rep. Russ Carnahan in the state’s 1st district primary after Carnahan’s district was dismantled during reapportionment. According to some lawmakers, Carnahan was urged by Democratic leadership to run against a Republican in a nearby district, but he declined.

House Democratic leaders tried multiple times to intervene to avoid an intraparty race between Missouri Reps. William Lacy Clay and Russ Carnahan but were ultimately unable to dissuade Carnahan from filing Tuesday to run against Clay.

“It pits two of the state’s most prominent political families against one another,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said. “It’s probably, for those of us who have been in Missouri politics for a long time, a tragedy that is not going to end well.”

Cleaver, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said he was in the room months ago when House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) encouraged Carnahan to run in a nearby GOP-held district.

A Democratic aide with knowledge of the matter said Israel tried several other times to dissuade Carnahan, even before the new Missouri map that obliterated his current district was unveiled. 

“It’s been a continual effort,” the aide said. “Israel offered financial help to try to convince him to take out a Republican.”

Carnahan, however, denied on Tuesday that he was told directly to run in another district, saying only that “people talked about options.”

“No, leadership has not, other than people having conversations,” he said. “Obviously it’s the job of the Caucus to maximize Democratic seats. The only way, and the best way, to do that in Missouri has been what I’ve taken a leadership role on, and that’s to challenge these districts in court.”

He also said that he did not give Pelosi or Israel notice that he would run against Clay. “In Missouri, chaos is the new normal,” he explained.

Carnahan said he still hopes the state’s Supreme Court will hold the new map unconstitutional and that the situation will be averted. But he said his choice to challenge Clay was spurred by Clay’s backing of the redistricting map, despite the fact that it reduces St. Louis-area districts from three to two.

“It’s unfortunate that he supported and didn’t work against these maps. And had Democrats stuck together, these maps could never have been passed,” he said.

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