Senate Candidate Trudy Busch Valentine Ducks Missouri Voters

St. Louis organizers say the U.S. Senate candidate declines many public appearances

May 27, 2022 at 2:19 pm
Trudy Busch Valentine is running for U.S. Senate for Missouri. - Screengrab
Trudy Busch Valentine is running for U.S. Senate for Missouri.

Trudy Busch Valentine wants to be the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Missouri, but two left-leaning political organizers in St. Louis say it is exceedingly difficult to get her to appear live in front of voters.

Valentine made a splash when she first entered the race in the last week of March, on the day before the candidate filing deadline. Scott Sifton, a former state senator for St. Louis County, immediately dropped out of the race and endorsed her.

During the first two weeks of her campaign, Valentine did an interview with the Post-Dispatch and the Missouri Independent.

Since then, organizers tell the RFT that Valentine has largely avoided any situation where she might be asked tough questions.

Debbie Kitchen, a group leader for Indivisible St. Louis, is one of two St. Louis political organizers who spoke to the RFT about the difficulties they encountered booking Valentine for a Q&A with voters. Indivisible St. Louis is a nonpartisan national organization working on behalf of a progressive agenda and candidates.

After Valentine filed, Kitchen says she tried to organize a "candidate and coffee" event for her.

Kitchen says, "We had general questions, like 'Why are you running?' Simple little icebreakers."

"There was no getting her there," Kitchen says. "There was no real excuse. Just, ‘She's not available for that. I'm sorry.’"

Kitchen says Lucas Kunce declined to do a "candidate and coffee" event as well, but made himself available for a future event.

In an email exchange she had with the Valentine campaign, Kitchen offered several dates and times for Valentine to meet with voters over Zoom.

On two different occasions, Kitchen says, Valentine offered to send a pre-recorded video but would not commit to appearing live.

On May 24, Indivisible St Louis had a virtual Q&A scheduled with Valentine and three other candidates.

According to Kitchen, Valentine's campaign again replied, "We would love to send a video, if that is something you would consider."

Kitchen says that she and the Valentine campaign reached a agreement: The Valentine campaign agreed for Kitchen to send them four questions that Valentine would answer in a pre-recorded video to be played during the event in which the other candidates spoke live.

But ultimately, Kitchen says, Valentine's daughter had a baby, and the Valentine campaign canceled the pre-recorded appearance.

The organizers that are critical of Valentine say they understand family obligation. However, they are concerned that the only appearance that seemed to be on the table was a pre-recorded one.

Kitchen's experience with the Valentine campaign is very similar to that of Maureen Jordan, co-chair and events coordinator for the Chesterfield Township Democrats. Jordan says her organization does not endorse candidates but merely wants to get them in front of voters.

Jordan says she worries for her party's chances in the general election if Valentine is the nominee.

She and a few other organizers met with Valentine at Washington University in April. "It was clear to me that she wasn't prepared to take questions," Jordan says of that meeting. "She's hesitant, in my opinion, to appear anywhere taking questions."

Jordan’s concerns deepened when she tried to set up a town hall sponsored by the Chesterfield Township Democrats with all the Democratic primary candidates who had raised more than a million dollars. Only two fit the bill: Kunce and Valentine.

Jordan does say that she personally favors Kunce, but in her role as Chesterfield Township Democrats co-chair, she says she worked diligently to schedule an event with both candidates.

On May 10, the event happened. Kunce showed up. Valentine didn't.

"She said she feels she's not ready to get on the stage with Lucas. She said, 'Look, he's been doing this for a year and a half. He's much more polished than I am,'" Jordan says. "And I said to myself, 'My God, you think it's going to be bad to get on stage with a primary contender? What are you going to do if you win?’"

Jordan says she subsequently invited Valentine to a Chesterfield Township Democrats meeting in June, but the invitation was declined. Jordan then asked Valentine's campaign if she would come to a July event if she was the only candidate there. Jordan says that Valentine's campaign replied they "would absolutely consider it."

The RFT asked the Valentine campaign about the organizers' concerns. Campaign Manager Alex Witt replied in a statement, “Since joining this race less than two months ago, Trudy has met with hundreds of Missourians who understand that fixing our broken politics means electing a Senator who will bring compassion and kindness to Washington. That’s why she’s looking forward to continuing to talk with people across the state about how to make life better for every Missourian, by lowering costs, strengthening our democracy, and protecting our right to choose. We will continue to schedule meetings and meet with as many Missourians as possible as we travel across the state.”

Another high-ranking Missouri political professional did not want to weigh in on the primary publicly, but did tell the RFT that Valentine has a good story to tell, given her career as a nurse and the way that opioid addiction has struck her family.

However, this source adds, "It's been two months, and no one has really heard from her."

"This ain't beanbag, it's a U.S. Senate race with all the attendant scrutiny," adds a former elected leader still involved in state politics. "You've got both a primary and a general [election] against legit brawlers. It's become fairly clear she's just not ready for prime time."

On the other side of the state, Kansas City Councilwoman Katheryn Shields expressed a similar sentiment to St. Louis organizers Kitchen and Jordan. "It's my understanding that she's not really reaching out," Shields says. "She does not appear to have a grassroots campaign, might be one way to put it."

One north county St. Louis political operative, who did not want to speak on the record about the ongoing primary, tells the RFT that, as far as he can tell, Valentine, "threw her name in the hat but then stayed inside."

He goes on to say that her campaign kick-off event at Grant's Farm was "screened and controlled."

"Only certain people were allowed to come in," he says. "In general, I think they're playing it close to the chest."

"I'm sure she's a swell person," he adds. "But she doesn't come off too polished or too genuine. That's especially concerning for Black people because we don't know you, and you're not even making the attempt."

University of Missouri-St. Louis Assistant Professor of Political Science Anita Manion says that Valentine does have some advantages, including being well-funded and having high name recognition, particularly in the St. Louis area.

"She also is a woman, which in this race, when you think about someone going up against Eric Greitens in particular, could be an advantage," Manion says.

A recent KMOV poll found Valentine coming in second in the primary, with 8 percent of the vote. Kunce registered two points higher. But 63 percent of the Missouri Democratic electorate was undecided.

Manion adds, "I recently saw that they're trying to plan a debate. Lucas Kunce, who I would call her biggest rival, has committed. But her campaign hasn't committed to the debate, which I find problematic for any candidate. Voters need to hear from the candidates before they make their choice."