RFT Asks: Will Missouri Ever Turn Blue?

Political expert Anita Manion breaks down Tuesday's election results

click to enlarge Anita Manion sits in front of a book shelf in a red shirt.
VIA ANITA MANION
Anita Manion is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Just over hours after the midterm elections finished, RFT caught up with Anita Manion, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, in-between a day jam-packed with media interviews. Manion discussed the election results, what stood out to her and what it all means going forward.

It’s the afternoon after Election Day –– what is your first reaction to yesterday’s results?

When it comes to the Missouri races, I don't think there were huge surprises in the results. But some of the surprising things were more so the margins.

For example, Megan Green won by a 10-point margin in St. Louis city. That's pretty significant, where Sam Page in St. Louis County, which has gone Democrat for [more than] 30 years eked out a win closer to five points with a last-minute opponent in Mark Mantovani. Those are some of, to me, the interesting things looking at how those played out.

The Democrats, it looks like they're going to pick up about five seats in the state house. So I think if you're a Democrat in Missouri, maybe that's a silver lining.

Why did the Democrats pick up some seats?

There was a redistricting process for the state legislature for the Senate, the Statehouse and for our U.S. Congressional seats following the census. It was pretty controversial and soaked up most of the legislative session last session. But, actually, the Bipartisan Commission successfully came to an agreement and came up with a bipartisan map that was slightly more favorable for Democrats.

If this would have been a red tsunami like some people predicted, the Dems probably wouldn't have picked up those seats. But [it] turned out to be maybe a red puddle, or what some are calling a red trickle, with some positive redistricting, [so] they were able to pick up those seats and also hang on to that Senate 24 seat with Tracy McCreery, who won by a decent margin as well.

Trudy Busch Valentine lost by double digits, but there has been some discussion that she helped Democrats down the ballot. Did you see this?

I've heard others express that. One thing to me, when I look at the Senate race, it just reminds me how nationalized our politics have become. Eric Schmitt won by almost the exact same margin that Donald Trump did. And the rhetoric is so similar, even in his acceptance speech –– a lot of the grievance politics and echoing a lot of Josh Hawley’s “the woke mob.”
We used to say that politics are local. Now, it's like all politics are national. So your local state rep might be a very moderate Democrat, who's lived in your community for a long time. But when they go to run this race, suddenly they're Nancy Pelosi or AOC.

I think that where Democrats were strategic and what Trudy Busch Valentine tried to do –– she didn't do so well in the primary, but she did better in the general –– was getting out to those communities, talking to people, humanizing yourself, so you're not Biden Jr., you’re an actual person who cares about the folks in that community.

Even though Democrats picked up a few seats, the state still went largely red. Do you see that changing at all in the future based on this election day?

It will be an uphill battle for Democrats in Missouri, but I think they can continue to make inroads. …It is interesting to me that, in Missouri, if we look at 2018, 2020, 2022 we've passed these progressive ballot initiatives for things like legalizing marijuana, raising the minimum wage, passing Medicaid expansion.

At the same time, we vote for candidates who are very conservative and oppose those issues. So it tells me that there are policy issues that are more liberal that resonate with voters across the state. And if the Democrats can find a way to connect with those and overcome that nationalization, those culture war issues, they could have a chance.

What stood out to you in the St. Louis city results?

I think it's a victory for progressives in St. Louis city. You now have a historic, all-woman, Board of Estimate and Apportionment with Tishaura Jones, Darlene Green and Megan Green, no relation.…
It is time where St. Louis really has to overcome some concerns from the voters about corruption. Obviously, this race happened because [former Board of Aldermen President] Lewis Reed had resigned and other members of the board. So I think it's a pivotal time for St. Louis city to really maybe do some reforms around those tax abatements and other issues that led to this bribery. [Politicians need] to be really transparent as they work on the ARPA funds and the Rams money [about] how they [are using] those funds to benefit citizens and showing that that is a transparent and fair process –– I think that's really critical as well.

And it's a lot more likely Tishaura Jones will be able to make progress in her agenda with Megan Green there instead of Lewis Reed. Now, the caveat is that Megan Green is only in office for a few months before she has to run for reelection.

Yeah, what elections are you looking forward to and keeping an eye on in the immediate future?

It will be interesting to see who else runs for that board president position. Tishaura Jones asked [Megan Green] to run and supported her. But we could get an African American candidate. Or would Jack Coatar run again?

I think, too, we saw very pro-life Republicans in Missouri, like Eric Schmitt, who was very proud to enact that trigger law, and Ann Wagner, who has been very anti-abortion, sort of soften their language and try to take the focus off abortion. Wagner reiterated how she supports exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother, which is not [what the] current Missouri law is. And Eric Schmitt, I think he just tried to avoid talking about it, whereas, at first, he was really touting that he had helped to enact that trigger law. Because of the success of progressive ballot initiatives in Missouri, I wouldn't be surprised if we see actions start to coalesce around [abortion rights].

Just on a personal level –– what was Election Day like for you? What did you do?

I taught in the morning, I went to the polling place and helped make sure that things were running smoothly there, and then I taught in the afternoon. I came home and did a quick turnaround and I was at KSDK from 6 p.m. until about 11:30 p.m. Then I came home and had some wine and watched election results till probably 1 in the morning and then tried to wind down.

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