At 8:55 PM CT last night, I tweeted this: “Is anyone else on #TeamAkin starting to feel it? #mosen #MOprimary” That was immediately after Dave Robertson of Channel 5 tweeted that with 84% of Greene County in, Akin was still leading there. That’s when I got the sense that we could actually win this thing.
Because there’s so much to delve into, I’m going to break down the Senate race separately and before I do my primary review by the end of the week.
Executive summary: Missouri Republican voters choose experience, record and intelligence over empty skirted hood ornaments and daddy warbucks.
It’s like deja vu all over again.
In 2000, Jim Talent didn’t run for another term in Congress in MO-2 in order to run for Missouri Governor. That opened up a red-gerrymandered Congressional district, and predictably, a boatload of credible candidates came out of the woodwork. The odds on favorite was former St. Louis County Executive Gene McNary, who was County Executive from 1975 to 1989, but left to become Bush 41′s director of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), as ICE was known at the time. I told a lot of people that I had my ear to the ground and I could hear that a state Senator by the name of Todd Akin was coming out of “left field,” at least in everyone else’s terms, but not mine. I knew that Akin had a strong base in the conservative Christian churches of the district. When Akin beat McNary by fewer than 100 votes on primary night in August 2000, I wasn’t surprised, even though everyone else was.
That led to one which led to six terms in the House. In that time, Akin was one of the first Congressmen to join Tom Tancredo’s immigration restriction caucus, and also one of the first to join the Tea Party Caucus in the House.
When Akin came out of nowhere to win the Senate primary yesterday, it was the same deal: A surprise to everyone, but not to me. Only this time, it was a much harder slog, because it was a statewide race, and some stars needed to line up in the right way.
So how did he do it?
1. Defending home field. He had very near a majority in the precincts that also served as his Congressional district, the 2000s configuration of MO-2. Bank robbers rob banks because that’s where the money is, and likewise, West St. Louis County, much of South St. Louis County and St. Charles County are where the Republican voters in Missouri are. Akin won an outright majority in Lincoln County, which happened to be part of CD-2 last decade. He also won St. Louis City, even though their few Republicans were thought to be Brunner-wheelhouse “moderates.”
2. While he didn’t win every or most outstate county, he won enough of them and did well enough in a lot of others to keep the outstate numbers from dragging down his St. Louis margins. Akin got 30% in Sarah Steelman’s home base of Phelps County. Meanwhile, Steelman only got 16% in Akin’s home base of St. Louis County. Which would you rather have?
3. Greene County (Springfield). Akin winning it and Steelman not winning it was big. Perhaps Huckabee. (See Below)
4. Jefferson County. I remember thinking to myself and telling some other people, and in fact, writing it in this space, that Jefferson was an important barometer for the whole race. I said back in early May, when the season started, while thinking of Akin, Brunner and Steelman, their strengths and weaknesses, and their various strong suits in voter constituencies, that Jefferson County had enough of a St. Louis suburban feel to play to Akin, enough of a rural/Ozarks feel to play to Steelman, and enough of a prole feel to make their voters susceptible to Daddy Warbucks’s media buys. I said that whoever won Jefferson would win the whole shooting match, and that the margin would be similar. In fact, that’s exactly what happened — Akin won Jefferson by 5 points and the state by 6 points. This is why I chose a Jefferson County precinct to electioneer for Akin, in what turned out to be a 100-degree day.
5. Akin got 28% and finished in third place in Jackson County. Not bad for someone who supposedly had no name recognition in Kansas City. I said KC was sort of a key, and while it wasn’t a Jefferson County style bellwether, Akin needed to do well enough there, just like he needed to do well enough in rural Missouri to keep those negative margins from eliminating his St. Louis margins.
6. Two gifts from The Sky very late in the game — Chick-Fil-A and the semi-supportive McCaskill buy.
7. I’m not a Mike Huckabee fan, especially since he’s amnesty and open borders all the way, and Akin is an immigration restrictionist, but I think the Huck buys made the difference in the parts of southern Missouri close to Arkansas. I think it would have been better for the Akin campaign to run the Huck buy only in southern Missouri but not at all in St. Louis.
8. Akin was more aggressive and articulate than I’ve ever seen him. Combined with Steelman’s stuttering and Brunner’s constant two- or three-line refrains, Akin decided to start communicating his own worldview and applying his own experience to oratory at just the right time.
9. Late breaks. No polls ever showed Akin leading this race, and all but one showed us in third place. His typical percentage in the polls was 18, yet he got 36% of the actual vote. I think half of Akin’s voters were either late breaking undecideds or people who were initially for Brunner or Steelman, and they either made up or changed their minds, respectively, late in the game, perhaps as late as actually being in the voting booth. Telling a pollster is one thing, but actually having the ballot in front of you is another.
10. And with almost no money. I think in the end that was more of a feature than a bug, especially since I think Brunner’s money became a liability.
When someone wins, it’s sometimes just as true that someone else lost. Here are my theories on how the competition lost:
Steelman: When the season started, Sarah Steelman was the conventional wisdom frontrunner. She had statewide name recognition from her time as State Treasurer and her failed run for Governor in 2008. Most Tea Party orgs endorsed her. Then there’s gender — It was thought that people would want a woman to face Claire McCaskill.
What drug her down? Herself. I saw her in person twice during this season. First, I spied on her when she was the main speaker at a Tea Party event in May in West County, and second, the debate at Lindenwood. Of course, I listened to her a lot beyond just literally seeing her. She was horrible in the debate, and while she was nowhere near that bad otherwise, even her good moments this season weren’t that good. She sounded unsure of herself and everything in general.
Sarah Palin comes out of yesterday with egg on her face. Other than the fact that Steelman didn’t win, Palin’s endorsement didn’t change anybody’s mind or sway undecided voters, as it turned out. Alaska Sarah’s endorsement of Missouri Sarah was the political equivalent of what accountants call a sunk cost — What I mean by that is that anyone in this state who was a Palin fan was going to vote Steelman anyway, and that was set in stone early in the season, long before the formal endorsement. I said just as much right here and to people when AK Sarah endorsed MO Sarah, and it turns out my instincts were right on the money.
Steelman got 16% in St. Louis County and 17% in St. Charles County. You’re not winning anything in a statewide Republican contest if you get only about one in six votes from the two biggest repositories of Republican votes in the state.
What happened? Just in the nick of time, people finally saw that Sarah Steelman was an empty skirt.
Brunner: I didn’t take him credibly at first, but his money made him credible. The only reason he was in this race is that he saw what Ron Johnson did in Wisconsin, (Johnson endorsed Brunner early on), and politics is a monkey see monkey do business. Brunner thought his newness and money and private sector experience would carry the day all by itself. The problem is, Johnson was able to articulate an agenda and a worldview, while Brunner rarely deviated from his boring pre-scripted pre-rehearsed talking points, either on the trail, in the media buys or in debates. The only position he clearly staked out was being against ObamaCare, and that was hardly special or something that would set him apart in a Republican Primary in a light red state.
I think enough people grew to be resentful of all the money he was spending on his own campaign. Just as Akin’s lack of money turned out to be more of a feature than a bug, Brunner’s plentiful supply turned out to be a liability rather than an asset.
Expect this post to be amended and edited many times.
Total number of votes for either Akin, Steelman or Brunner:
St. Louis County: 79,789
St. Charles County: 39,617
Jefferson County: 17,741
Jackson County: 27,511
Greene County: 31,108
Now you know why there were very few media buys in Kansas City. When a hilly working class white county south of St. Louis that was historically Democrat gets 17k votes compared to only 27k votes in the main county of the Kansas City metro area, that should tell you something. Springfield is more important than Kansas City in statewide Republican politics!
Turnout was 21% in Jefferson County, 25% in St. Louis County, 27% in St. Louis City, 22% in St. Charles County. City turnout was higher probably because of CD-1-D. The precinct in JeffCo where I perched myself had a very light turnout, even the busy hours weren’t that busy. Locals told me that that precinct probably had an under 20% turnout. The statewide turnout was 23%.
By comparison, the August 2010 primary turnout was 21% in Jefferson County, 21% in St. Louis County, 14% in St. Louis City, 22% in St. Charles County. That turnout was higher this year in St. Louis County and much higher in St. Louis City compared to the same point two years ago was indicative of Carnahan-Clay. Still, even with more Democrats from St. Louis turning out for a competitive Democrat affair, A+S+B was 574k, McCaskill only had 289k, statewide. And you wonder why I think she’s toast.
This primary was the first contentious outcome-not-a-foregone-conclusion Senate partisan primary since the 1994 Democrat Primary between Alan “BBQ in the Bathtub” Wheat, Congressman from CD-5, and Marsha Murphy, the Jackson County Executive. Wheat beat Murphy in August then lost to John Ashcroft that November. I don’t remember a contentious Republican Senate Primary in Missouri before now in my conscious lifetime.
This was also the last time any Missouri statewide race was Kansas Citian vs Kansas Citian. Like I said earlier, St. Louisan vs St. Louisan happens often, St. Louis Countian vs St. Louis Countian not too infrequently, but KC vs KC is rare.
I’m adding this section in the height of the controversy. Rush Limbaugh et al. are wrong when they claim that Democrat crossovers drove Akin to victory in the primary. First off, the two big repositories of Democrat votes for Democrat primaries are St. Louis and Kansas City. The Democrats in CD-1 took a Democrat ballot for the Clay-Carnahan race, and there were very few Democrat and not very many Republican votes out of Kansas City and Jackson County.