McCaskill’s judicial misstep damages reelection chances

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) has been embroiled in scandal back home due to her failure to pay state taxes on a private plane she and her husband own. While this issue may damage her reputation as a good government reformer, her support for the appointment of Judge John A. Ross to the federal court in Eastern Missouri may prove to be much more damaging.

State Judge Ross has been accused by local officials in the St. Louis area of abusing his power in a case related to a multi-jurisdictional fire district, where he took control of the operations of the district away from the duly elected officials who were cleaning up corruption among the Emergency Management personnel who were manipulating leave to dramatically increase overtime payments at taxpayer expense.

While the local corruption battle and Ross’s involvement in it makes a good story in the local St. Louis media, I’m writing about it because McCaskill’s backing Ross’s federal bench nomination is a huge misstep in her bid to get reelected, as it is viewed as a direct slap in the face to the voters of this majority-African-American district.

McCaskill faces an uphill fight to keep her Senate seat in a state that narrowly voted against President Obama in 2008. It can be expected that voter turnout in the African-American community will near historic highs set in 2008. With African-Americans making up just over 11 percent of the registered voters in the state, McCaskill needs every single vote from this anticipated high-turnout constituency in her column to offset what is likely to be an increasingly energized conservative movement in the state.

While some might contend that the African-American vote won’t sway based upon a single judicial appointment, this unforced error of supporting a judge who is anathema to her core voting constituency will force the senator to spend more time mending fences and less time reaching out to undecided voters.

The Ross appointment also provides Republicans in the state with a chance to demonstrate that their doors are open to African-American empowerment concerns. Sen. Roy Blunt (R) is now in the position of being the “go-to” guy for these disaffected African-American leaders looking to stop the Ross nomination.

If Blunt is smart, and he is, he is meeting with African-American political leaders in the state and getting his blue slip ready. If Ross has abused his power as they claim, Roy Blunt can become the champion many of them had hoped Claire McCaskill would come.

This would be devasting to McCaskill’s reelection hopes, but more importantly, it would demonstrate to the African-American community in his state that there are alternatives to the Democratic Party establishment that takes them for granted.


Rick Manning is the former coalitions and outreach director for JC Watts Jr. at the House Republican Conference.