The real election in the city of St. Louis occurred last Tuesday when Missouri held its Democratic primary. Six primary races pit white Democrats versus black Democrats, including high-profile races for U.S. Congress, the state senate, three state house races and sheriff.
Like most major cities, the general election here is a foregone conclusion. Republicans haven’t been a force in city politics for more than a half-century. In fact, you’d have to time-travel back to the misty mid-1940s before you could find a Republican occupying the mayor’s office.
Like most primaries in this half-white, half-black city, this year’s races were first and foremost about race. Thanks to redistricting, the fight for Missouri’s new First Congressional District seat pit two incumbents against each other: the African-American William Lacy Clay (son of a former congressman) and the nebulously hued Russ Carnahan (son of a former U.S. senator). Needless to say, the First Congressional District is not “The People’s Seat.” Despite lots of talk about unity, diversity, and other feel-good buzzwords, Clay was expected to get virtually all of the African-American vote, while Carnahan had the white vote wrapped up. Since there are slightly more blacks than whites in the district, Clay was predicted to narrowly win. And did.
The same went for Missouri’s state house and state senate races. Our friend Ruth, who played piano at our wedding, ran against Penny Hubbard, a longtime cog in the North St. Louis African-American political machine. It was telling that the Hubbard campaign literature that graced my front door handle featured no images of white residents. Despite that “oversight,” Hubbard narrowly won. Meanwhile the state senate race pit a gay white women, Jeanette Mott Oxford, versus two African-American women, Robin Wright-Jones (the daughter of the former comptroller) and Jamilah Nasheed, who told the local paper, “I’m black before I’m a Democrat.” The Black Firster won handily.
Several democrat politicians employed scare tactics to turn out the vote. Lacy Clay warned that many black voters would not support Carnahan if he were the nominee in the general election. “The enthusiasm would not be there,” he told the local paper. “For the black community, they would probably go in and vote for Obama and walk out. It would be viewed as setting back the black community, for sure.” The local African-American newspaper warned that St. Louis could end up having no black representatives in Congress, the state senate or the state house. It was the same story throughout St. Louis. You could tell if the residents of a home were black or white based on whose political signs were posted in their front yard.
St. Louis’s Democrats alleged that this year’s black-white contests were part of a right-wing conspiracy, that Republicans in Jefferson City redrew the formerly mostly black or mostly white districts to create bi-racial races. This would lead to more racial tension among the Democratic Party in the city, a good move politically for the GOP, perhaps, but a disaster for race relations. Republicans, naturally, wouldn’t care about that since they do not live in the city.