Will the nearly extinct Missouri Democratic Party put up anything close to an electable statewide candidate in 2022?
Currently, the donkeys are on the run, having gone 0-for-2020. Their one remaining statewide officeholder, Auditor Nicole Galloway, lost a not-close race for governor to Mike Parson last year. She was elected auditor in 2018 and will face re-election in 2022 if she wants another term.
A larger prize is available in 2022 – the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Sen. Roy Blunt.
On the GOP side, so far we’ve got former Gov. Eric Greitens, who resigned in a sex scandal in 2018 after 16 months in office, and Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who has spent much of his time suing China, President Joe Biden and announcing how much he is praying on how to humbly serve Missourians as he plots his next career move.
Both men have positioned themselves as ardent Trump Republicans, railing against illegal immigration, voter fraud that doesn’t seem to exist and other dark themes that appeal to the rural Missouri base that overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump both times he ran.
They may not be alone. Several Trumpier-than-thou U.S. House members also are reportedly considering the Republican primary, including two of Jefferson County’s three congresspersons, Jason Smith and Ann Wagner.
With the former president still so popular in Missouri, who could the Democrats possibly field who would have a chance against an opponent that GOP primary voters will deem the Trumpiest of them all?
Jay Nixon, come on down.
The De Soto native, a four-term attorney general and two-term governor, has run the most statewide races of any of the potential candidates – 16 by my count – and would figure to have the highest name recognition of any of the candidates announced so far.
Nixon’s best credential, however, might be that he truly is a moderate Democrat. He came from a conservative county that has never really produced big-time lefty politicians.
Of course, to GOP strategists, there are no moderate Democrats. Nixon would be called the usual litany of names and labels that Republican campaign managers have found to be so useful in scaring people and winning elections. He would be called radical, socialist, communist, left-wing and above all, the kill-shot word: liberal.
It wouldn’t matter that he is none of those things. Politics these days is all about packaging and labeling the candidate – not your candidate, but the other guy.
The question is whether Nixon, a lawyer who now does government consulting for a St. Louis law firm, would want to drag himself around the state for a year or more, raise money like a TV preacher and likely take a big pay cut to accept a senator’s paltry $174,000 salary.
I first met Nixon the day he bounced into the Festus office of the old Courier-Journal to announce he was running for the Missouri Senate seat from Jefferson County in 1986. He was 29 years old, but assured everyone he would be 30 (the minimum age to serve in the Missouri Senate) by Election Day.
Spending what was then a shocking $100,000 in a state Senate race, Nixon won the Democratic primary election against two experienced pols – the late sheriff Walter “Buck” Buerger and the late Ralph Krodinger, who was the county’s presiding commissioner. In those ancient days, in Jefferson County, the Democratic primary was the whole ballgame.
Nixon was in office just a few months when he announced he would run for the U.S. Senate in 1988 against incumbent John Danforth, who was well-regarded and considered unbeatable. That turned out to be correct. In golf parlance, Nixon shot his age – he got 32 percent of the vote.
After being re-elected to the Missouri Senate for four more years in 1990, Nixon took another flier and ran for attorney general in 1992. He won, and served three more terms before winning the governor’s chair in 2008 and 2012.
He did manage to squeeze in another run for U.S. Senate in 1998, losing to Kit Bond, but not as badly as he did to Danforth.
I sent the former gov an email at his firm a couple of weeks ago just to check in, but it went unanswered. Maybe I should have resisted asking him whether the third time might be the charm.
Nixon will be 66 next year, a whippersnapper by Democratic standards. If Joe Biden holds up for another year and a half, the Democrats will have the nation’s first octogenarian president.
The larger questions are these:
■ Does he want the race?
■ Is there anyone who can sell him on it?
■ Does he want to re-live Ferguson?
Nixon was once thought to have presidential ambitions of his own, but those literally went up in flames in 2014 when Ferguson burned as Missouri National Guard troops watched during the Michael Brown protests. His response was less than robust and manly, including at least one fairly disastrous press conference.
Republicans would make sure he – and voters – remember those trying times if he runs again.
Scott Sifton, a former two-term state senator from Affton, already has announced for the Democratic primary. Beyond him, there doesn’t appear to be a stampede of Democrats anxious for the brick wall.
They ran the Kentucky Derby last Saturday. Would Nixon, the old war horse of a candidate, be able to resist one last hurrah if enough Democratic muckety-mucks coo in his ear that he is their only hope?
We could see it, friends: The Jaybird, back in the saddle.