Kamala Harris visit places spotlight on Missouri Democrats’ bid to regain support
Democratic National Committee Chairman Jaime Harrison knows a thing or two about expensive Senate races.
The South Carolina native ran in 2020 against Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham. He raised tens of millions of dollars thanks to donations from Democrats who were upset with Graham for, among other things, getting Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination through the Senate.
Despite the enthusiasm for his campaign, Harrison lost by roughly 10 percentage points. But he said that the three Democrats running for a chance to oust Missouri Republican U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley have advantages that he didn’t have three years ago. For one thing, Harrison was running during a period of the COVID-19 pandemic when some Democratic campaigns were skittish about in-person outreach.
“And so we've learned a lot since then,” Harrison said. “And so my advice to not only the candidate, but the party, is to make sure that they're using this time now. Because one asset that we have that we can't get back and we can't raise more of is time. And they need to use the time now to have those crucial conversations on the ground, across the state, rural and urban, to begin to educate people why they need the change.”
Harrison is in St. Louis this week for the Democratic National Committee’s fall meeting. And with Vice President Kamala Harris slated to speak to attendees on Friday, Missouri Democrats’ electoral efforts are coming into greater focus over the three-day event.
Missouri was a swing state on a presidential and statewide level for decades. But that seems like a distant memory, with the recent success of GOP presidential nominees in the state. And Republicans hold every statewide office for the first time in generations.
Harrison, though, said that doesn’t mean Missouri is off his organization’s radar, including for Hawley's reelection bid next year.
“There's some states that we know that are going to be core battleground states,” Harrison said, pointing to Arizona, Georgia and Nevada as examples. “But there are some states in which there's potential and there's an expansion opportunity to expand the map. And I think if you look at the Senate race opportunities, you think you look at governor's race opportunities. There'll be a lot of people who are going to be paying attention to what's going on here.”
Senate hopefuls seek out support
The three candidates hoping to be on the fall ballot against Hawley — Lucas Kunce, Karla May and Wesley Bell — attended Wednesday’s Truman Dinner, which featured Harrison as a keynote speaker. All three said they were bullish about their chances next year.
Kunce is making his second run for the U.S. Senate and has raised the most money of any of the Democratic contenders. “I'm doing everything that needs to be done to win,” he said. “We're getting all around the state, from Odessa to Eldon.
“That's what our whole campaign is about — bringing out hope to Missouri,” Kunce said. “You know, like people in my old neighborhood who have been left behind. And a lot of people who've been left behind by a coastal economy that's not working for us.”
Bell, St. Louis County’s prosecutor, said that people are “starting to realize that the state is back in play” after years of electoral futility among Democrats. He’s been trying to make the case that his ability to turn out voters in St. Louis County could help him dispatch Hawley next fall.
“And so that's why I got in the race,” Bell said. “If I didn't think we could win and if I didn't see a path forward, I wouldn't waste my time or waste our time.”
May, a Democratic state senator from St. Louis, said she’s sensing voters are energized about the chance to repeal the state’s abortion ban — and expanding access to health care in rural areas.
“I have a proven record of achievement,” May said. “And I think people will be invested in me, because I’ll be invested in Missouri — and I’ve invested in the people in Missouri.”
If the winner of the Democratic Senate primary is the recipient of a deluge of cash from donors across the country, Harrison said it is possible for that person to help other candidates down the ballot — including contenders for statewide, congressional and state legislative offices.
“That's really important so that they know you're at the top of the ticket and that you are there to support them,” Harrison said.
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