Coronavirus Response Could See Shake-Up in Missouri Governor’s Race

ST. LOUIS (CN) — The Trump train that barreled through the country in 2016 seems to have derailed and the fallout could lead to a change in power in the Missouri governor’s mansion.

According to the most recent SLU/YouGov poll, Republican Governor Mike Parson held just a two-point lead over Democratic challenger Nicole Galloway. It is a dramatic difference from the 13-point lead Parson enjoyed in another poll in March.

A sign directs voters to a polling location in St. Louis County. (Courthouse News photo/Joe Harris)

Kenneth Warren, a political science professor at St. Louis University who authored the poll, calls the race a dead heat. He believes Parson’s decline is tied with President Donald Trump’s decline in the state. Trump won Missouri by 18% in 2016, but has just a seven-point lead against Joe Biden in the Show-Me State, according to the same poll.

“Trump has fallen, a lot in every demographic,” Warren said in an interview. “And he’s even fallen with the Evangelicals, but he’s fallen, a lot among whites, which is real serious, particularly white women. And so, that presents a problem for Parson as well.”

While earning their respective parties’ nomination seems to be a forgone conclusion as Missourians head to the polls on Tuesday, the tightening race continues to draw national attention as November approaches.

There has already been considerable fundraising for both sides. Galloway brought in more than $1.1 million in the second quarter of 2020 (April through June) with no in-person events. Parson reported $1.4 million cash on hand.

Parson, one of just two current governors without a college degree, faces several obstacles aside from being tied to Trump, the biggest perhaps being the state’s struggle to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. On Thursday, the state set a new single-day high for new cases for the 11th time with 2,087 cases and it was recently added to 21 states considered a “red zone” for new Covid-19 cases by the White House coronavirus task force.

“It’s a little hard to tell at this point exactly what impact the virus is going to have in terms of how people view politics, and frankly, their ability to participate in politics, come November,” Peverill Squire, a political science professor at the University of Missouri, Columbia, said in an interview.

Despite the recent increase in Covid-19 numbers, Parson has been reluctant to institute a statewide mask mandate, preferring to leave it up to local decision-makers.

“Right now, it’s spiked like crazy,” Warren said. “So, the coronavirus will be a big factor and the fact that Missouri is not handled very well will not be good for him.”

Parson has also sided with Trump in a pro-police “law and order” stance regarding the protests stemming from George Floyd’s death. Recently, Parson said he would pardon Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the couple who gained national headlines for threatening protesters walking by their St. Louis mansion with guns, from any criminal charges filed by St. Louis prosecutor Kim Gardner.

Such stances may ring true with rural Missouri, which is deeply red. But it could pose problems within the more liberal urban voting blocks such as St. Louis and Kansas City.

Warren said that balance can’t be ignored. While Galloway, the state’s auditor, ironically was the only Democrat to win a statewide office during the Trump wave of 2016, Missouri is not as GOP-dominated as it seems.

“The fact is, since 1992, Missouri’s been dominated by Democrats,” Warren said. “There’s been Democratic governors except for Matt Blunt. We’ve had Mel Carnahan, (Bob) Holden, Matt Blunt came in, but then we had Jay Nixon . … don’t assume that Missouri is so red.”

Another issue for Parson is that he wasn’t elected as governor. He was elected Lt. Governor in 2016, but was sworn in as the state’s 57th governor on June 1, 2018, after Eric Greitens resigned amid allegations of computer tampering and that he attempted to blackmail a mistress with a compromising photograph.

“He doesn’t have quite the base that most incumbents would tend to have,” Squire said. “He’s really running for governor the first time around. He’s having to figure out how he can try to appeal beyond just what is the traditional Republican base, rural areas, and he’s obviously struggled with that.

“In the last month’s time, he’s had a number of missteps in how he’s articulated some of his views and I’m not sure that his views are going to resonate particularly well, not just in the urban areas which are not inclined to support the Republicans anyway, but I think it’s probably hurting him in the suburbs.”

Galloway has seized on Missouri’s rising Covid-19 numbers, attacking Parson’s leadership during the pandemic. She has criticized Parson for not wearing a mask during public appearances and her campaign launched an advertising campaign highlighting Parson’s failure to take responsibility for the rising numbers.

In June, she announced a comprehensive framework to invest in Missouri’s Black communities, reform the state’s criminal justice system, ensure healthcare for Black Missourians and protect voting rights.

Galloway also supports Medicaid expansion, which is a hot-button topic statewide on Tuesday’s ballot. Parson opposes it.

But with the election more than 90 days away, it remains to be seen if she can keep her current momentum going.

“Republicans are facing problems in trying to win reelection,” Warren said. “Missouri reflects that trend. Republicans not doing very well, and Parson is trending downward. I think he’s going to have a hard time defending his position on how he’s handled coronavirus.”

Another race of note that will be decided on Tuesday in Missouri is the race between Lacy Clay and Cori Bush for the U.S. House of Representatives District 1.

Clay, a Democrat, has held the post for 20 years. His father, Bill Clay served in the same capacity since 1968 and was a founding member of the Black Congressional Caucus before retiring in 2000.

But Clay is perhaps facing his toughest test in Bush, a progressive Democrat.

Bush unsuccessfully ran against Clay in 2018. Though she received the endorsement of fellow progressive Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Clay still won by more than 28,000 votes (a 57-37% split).

Bush doesn’t have Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement this time around, but she has name recognition and a bigger war chest, reporting $562,000 raised with $127,000 cash in hand.

Bush has used her money on a TV ad campaign highlighting her efforts as an activist within the Black Lives Matter movement. She hopes to get a boost from being featured in the Netflix film, “Knock Down the House,” that highlighted the campaigns of Progressive Democrats challenging incumbents.

She has attacked Clay’s leadership, claiming the region has become stagnant and mediocre, banking that the region’s Black voters will desire new leadership.

Clay is running on his own record. He has key roles on the House Financial Services Committee and the House Oversight Committee, and his campaign notes he has consistently backed the positions of Progressive Democrats such as the Green New Deal, Medicare for All and the impeachment of Trump.

Both have high-profile endorsements. Clay has the backing of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Kamala Harris, while Bush has the support of Senator Bernie Sanders.

“She’s still an underdog, but it’s a competitive race and the fact that we will have Medicaid expansion on the August ballot may help propel more progressives to show up on election day,” Squire said.

Warren, though, doesn’t think too highly of the prospect of a Bush upset.

While he notes that Clay is taking this race seriously with TV ads of his own, he believes the combination of the Clay name along with the big loss two years ago will be too much to overcome.

“She loses by 20 points, you know, and people interpreted that as a close election and that’s funny,” Warren said. “They interpret it as a close election because it was closer than usual, but 20 points under any scenario is a whomping.”

Covid-19 has changed the look of elections, but Missouri still expects to have results in by the end of Tuesday night.

In-person polling stations will be open throughout the state and social distancing will be encouraged. A spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office told Courthouse News that local election officials have done a good job of making sure things should go smoothly.

The state is expecting an increase in absentee voting after the legislature passed SB 631, which expanded absentee voting in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. But the spokesperson said all absentee ballots are due to local election authorities by the close of polls on Tuesday and should not affect the tabulation of results.

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