Reversal of Fortune?

Democrats Hope Unpopular Governor’s Loss Aids Challenger to Bond

Posted August 6, 2004 at 6:15pm

Hoping to reinvigorate a race that has largely disappeared from the national radar, Senate Democrats are casting the primary defeat of Missouri Gov. Bob Holden (D) as good news for the challenge by state Treasurer Nancy Farmer (D) to Sen. Kit Bond (R).

Holden was defeated by state Auditor Claire McCaskill (D) on Tuesday, the first time since 1994 that a sitting governor had been defeated in a primary.

Farmer won a less competitive primary of her own to secure the party nomination against Bond. The Senator, too, handily won a primary race Tuesday.

McCaskill’s victory is a “strong indication that Missourians are ready for change,” said Farmer.

A political strategist currently working in Missouri said that Holden was serving as something of an “anchor” on Democratic enthusiasm in the state that will now be removed with McCaskill leading the ticket.

“The McCaskill victory brings new energy and a vibrant tone up and down the ballot that should enhance every race,” from the presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to the Farmer campaign, said the strategist.

However, a Democratic consultant with knowledge of the state’s politics said the McCaskill win is more likely to benefit the candidates running for lieutenant governor and secretary of state than Farmer.

“In a Senate race, both candidates will be defined,” said the source. “In other downballot races it is going to be based on overall partisan forces.”

Republicans dismissed any McCaskill boost for Farmer as the latest example of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s flavor-of-the-month mentality about races.

“One thing you can say about the DSCC is their consistency about being inconsistent is laudable,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee Communications Director Dan Allen. “This week it’s Missouri, two weeks ago it was Kentucky, and before that it was Pennsylvania. None of these candidates have a shot.”

Farmer’s candidacy was heavily touted by the DSCC in 2003 but has taken a back seat so far this year as both parties have focused their energy on the eight open seats — five on the Democratic side and three for Republicans — that are up in November.

The only incumbents seen as truly endangered by both parties are Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).

In a conference call Thursday, DSCC Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.) emphasized that his committee “knows and believes we can win” the Missouri Senate contest.

“We at the national party level consider [Farmer] one of our rising stars,” added Corzine.

Rhetoric aside, Farmer has an uphill race ahead of her.

Although Bond had never received more than 53 percent in any of his three Senate races, he has run a solid re-election campaign to this point, giving Farmer few openings to make headway.

Bond has also socked away an impressive $5.4 million as of June 30; Farmer had $1.2 million on hand at that point.

Farmer acknowledged that she would be outspent by Bond, but argued that recent political history in the state reveals that the biggest spender doesn’t always come out on top.

“In a battleground state like Missouri, money isn’t necessarily a deciding factor,” she said, noting that McCaskill was heavily outspent by Holden as was now-Sen. Jim Talent (R) in his 2002 race against then-Sen. Jean Carnahan (D).

“Kit Bond is going to outspend me 2-to-1, but I am going to win,” said Farmer.

Even Democrats privately acknowledge, however, that Farmer must receive a financial and organizational boost from Kerry’s presidential campaign and McCaskill’s gubernatorial campaign if she is to have a real chance of knocking off Bond.

Kerry, as well as several progressive soft-money groups, have been spending heavily in Missouri for several months, as has President Bush. This pace is not expected to slacken before the election.

Aside from the presumed “energy” that McCaskill brings to the ticket, Democrats see other potential advantages from her victory over Holden.

McCaskill’s win means that the top four Democratic slots on the ballot — the races for Senate, governor, lieutenant governor and secretary of state — will be filled by women.

Former Secretary of State Bekki Cook (D) is running for lieutenant governor, while Robin Carnahan (D), the daughter of Jean and the late Gov. Mel Carnahan, is her party’s nominee for secretary of state.

Farmer said the women represent “four fresh faces to lead Missouri in a new direction.” Corzine said the Missouri ticket symbolizes the “leadership of women in the Democratic Party.”

Jason Van Eaton, a spokesman for Bond’s campaign, drew a different conclusion about the Democratic slate.

“Folks in the state are calling this ticket the most liberal in state history,” said Van Eaton. “It shows how out of the Missouri mainstream Farmer and the other [candidates] are.”

Democrats shied away from labeling their all-female team in Missouri, given the lopsided defeats of the 2002 “Dream Team” in Texas, which featured former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk (D), who is black, and wealthy businessman Tony Sanchez (D), a Hispanic, running for Senate and governor, respectively.

Another potential benefit for Farmer of having McCaskill at the top of the ticket, Democrats said, is the gubernatorial nominee’s strength in the Kansas City area — the same region that has long been Bond’s political base.

McCaskill, Morris said, “is from Kansas City and maybe affects some of Bond’s base there by turning out Democratic voters.”

In the Democratic gubernatorial primary, McCaskill took 55 percent in Jackson County, which includes Kansas City, to Holden’s 45 percent.

The results were less conclusive in the Senate race, due to the noncompetitive nature of the primaries won by Bond and Farmer.

Farmer received 34,972 votes in Jackson compared to 32,293 for Bond.

In his 1998 re-election race, which he won 53 percent to 45 percent, Bond took 54,616 votes in Jackson compared to just 41,058 for his Democratic challenger.