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Storied Political Families Square Off in Missouri

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.

The redrawn Congressional map was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon but was passed into law over his objection when Republicans, who control the Legislature, got the help of some Democratic African-American legislators. Democrats in the state say those votes were shepherded by Cleaver with the tacit approval of Clay.

“In one sense, if Lacy and Cleaver had been a little bit less self-interested and had worked on a map that would have been good for everybody, Russ might be in a different place today,” one Missouri Democratic strategist said. “Instead, they got on the life raft and pulled up the rope behind them.”

Carnahan’s current 3rd district was essentially eliminated in redistricting. He has backed a so-far-unsuccessful court battle waged to overturn the lines, but Tuesday’s filing appeared to be a partial admission of defeat on the judicial front.

In the majority-minority 1st district, both Congressmen will be familiar to voters, but Clay probably has the early edge. Only a third of Carnahan’s current constituents were drawn into the reconfigured 1st.

Cleaver said he and the CBC political action committee will support Clay, insisting that he is the incumbent. That puts Cleaver in a particularly difficult situation because he is close to both Clay and the Carnahan family.

“Lacy Clay is a friend of mine, and I intend to be of whatever help I can be,” he said. “Lacy Clay is not only the incumbent, but he is clearly the frontrunner in this race, and he’s going to end up getting a lot of support from all over.”

But he said he is still holding out hope that the race can be avoided.

“I’m hoping that before filing ends that something will happen or someone will intervene and we can we avert this bus wreck,” he said.

If the primary is a Member-vs.-Member fight, though, the issue of race will be center stage.

“It’s impossible to overlook the minority aspect here,” said Mike Kelley, a St. Louis Democrat who is a former executive director of the Missouri Democratic Party. “There will be a lot of downticket races that will have primaries, particularly in the African-American community, that will drive some turnout in this election. It will be something Caranhan will have to overcome, and it will be something that Clay will have to capitalize on.”

Clay was direct in his statement on Monday.

“I am the Democratic incumbent in Missouri 1. I am running for re-election. I will win decisively,” Clay said.

The 1st district is a safe Democratic seat. Whichever Member wins the primary will easily be re-elected in November. There’s the potential that other people could get in the race, which would shift the dynamic of the primary.

“We’re a long way from knowing what this race is going to look like,” Kelley said. “There, potentially, could be other folks who get in this race.”

Given the liberal makeup of the district, expect to see both Members emphasize their progressive bona fides.

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