Can These Democrats Beat Missouri's U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner?

Trish Gunby and Ray Reed are hoping to take back Missouri's Republican Second Congressional District

click to enlarge Trish Gunby and Ray Reed are vying for the Democratic nod in the second district. - VIA TRISH GUNBY, SCREENGRAB
Trish Gunby and Ray Reed are vying for the Democratic nod in the second district.

In 2019, Trish Gunby made a run at Missouri’s 99th House District as a Democrat. It was a Republican district where, three years earlier, the GOP candidate won with nearly 58 percent of the vote.

Gunby wasn’t a politician at the time. Rather, she was a marketing professional for Citicorp and Purina, who dabbled in serving as the social justice coordinator with Manchester United Methodist Church. But she saw an opening.

So she got on the ground and went door-to-door talking to voters. She swept through the district seven times.

Gunby won the state-representative seat in a special election in 2019. Then she won again in 2020.

Now Gunby wants to achieve the same upset in Missouri’s Second Congressional District. “I beat Republicans twice,” she tells the RFT. “I’m going for the trifecta.”

But in the Second District, she might encounter a tougher draw. The U.S. House seat has been Republican for nearly three decades, and the new district lines encompass Franklin and Warren counties, which both voted more than 70 percent for Donald Trump in 2020. One Democrat, a political newcomer named Ben Samuels, dropped out of the current race in May after raising $1 million. He said the newly drawn district made his candidacy untenable.

Whoever wins the Democratic primary will face off against Republican Ann Wagner, the incumbent since 2012. Gunby takes a dim view of her record.

“She’s been around 10 years, no town halls, we don’t see her,” she says. “She literally offices five minutes from my house. I haven’t seen her in the district in 10 years.”
A self-described progressive, Gunby would like to see expanded gun control. She supports the proposed John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and would support making the right to an abortion a part of federal law. She said that health care — and more specifically, universal health care — is one of her main priorities. “Many folks who aren’t covered adequately by health care have decided that GoFundMe accounts are the way to get health care,” she says. “That’s not sustainable.”

Despite the district’s history, Gunby sees an opportunity for a Democrat. She notes that, for example, state Auditor Nicole Galloway carried the district in the 2020 governor’s race. Gunby says the Second has a record of voting for more progressive ballot issues, such as supporting Clean Missouri and legalizing medical marijuana. “When you know they’re voting for more progressive ballot issues, but then they’re not voting for progressive candidates, I think it’s up to the candidate to connect the dots,” she says. “The way you do that is not by doing tons of negative mail and ads. It’s by — shocking — talking to voters.”
But before Gunby can even think about Wagner, she’ll have to win the Democratic primary. That will mean beating Ray Reed, who hopes to be the first person of color elected to lead the district. (Contacted last week via email, Reed did not respond to an interview request.) Reed has said he believes someone new and fresh has the best chance at an upset.

“I think it’d be more risky for us to run the same type of candidates that we’ve been running in what will be a more difficult district and expect a different outcome against Ann Wagner,” Reed told the St. Louis American.

Reed believes he’s that person. He’s 25 years old and a proud Gen-Zer. He’s built a significant social media base, with more than 37,000 followers on Twitter, and gained national press from outlets such as NPR.

“No matter where you come from, what walk of life you come from, everyone has a place in this campaign,” Reed told MSNBC. “I think we’ve been able to bridge the generational gap in this campaign.” Despite his age, Reed isn’t new to the political world. A Brentwood native, Reed attended the University of Central Missouri, where he studied political science. Out of college, he got a job on then-Governor Jay Nixon’s policy team, focusing on bill reviews, clemency applications, and boards and commission appointments. Later, he worked for the Missouri Democratic Party and served on Senator Claire McCaskill’s reelection campaign.

“I got the government education under Jay Nixon and the political education under Senator McCaskill,” he told the Missourian. “I’ve been to every inch of this state for Democrats.”
If elected, Reed says he would support a $15 minimum wage, codifying Roe v. Wade into federal law and forgiving federal student loans. In the end, Reed believes he can reach people across the district better than anyone else.

The voters need “someone who represents this district in more ways than one and someone who can build a broader coalition of voters across divisions of race, region, religion, gender and income. So, I think I’m that candidate,” he told the American.

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