Campaign

Democratic Kansas City, Mo., mayor eyes Senate run

Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Quinton Lucas (D) is urging Democrats to take a hard look at competing for an open U.S. Senate seat next year in Missouri — and he may want to be their nominee.

In an interview, Lucas, 36, said he has met with Democratic Party officials about mounting a campaign to replace retiring Sen. Roy Blunt (R). He said his campaign, if he decides to run, would depart from more traditional Democratic candidates who have lost statewide elections in a state that has moved substantially to the right over the last 20 years.

“It’s a very serious consideration. That said, it was not a lifelong dream to be a United States senator,” Lucas said. “I think that we’ve accomplished a lot in Kansas City.”

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee declined to comment on conversations with potential candidates.

Any Democrat would have a tough challenge in Missouri, a state where former Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) lost reelection in 2018 and where the party controls only one of six executive offices, the auditor’s office. Former President Trump carried Missouri by 15 points in 2020, reaching the highest share of the vote for any Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan won reelection in 1984.

Lucas also faces historical headwinds: Most Democrats who have won statewide elections in recent decades have come from suburban or exurban counties, rather than from the urban cores of St. Louis and Kansas City. Auditor Nicole Galloway (D) hails from Boone County, home of Columbia and the University of Missouri. Former Gov. Jay Nixon (D) came from the St. Louis exurbs.

“The Democrats who have won in the last 20 years have by and large been out-state Democrats,” said Elijah Haahr, a Republican who served as Speaker of the state House until earlier this year. “Traditionally, the Democrats that win statewide are not from the urban centers.”

Lucas said he would differ from the model candidate Democrats have favored in recent years.

“I think you need voices that actually have accomplished some things,” he said. “Do you want candidates who can share a story, or do you want to run Chris Koster for governor again?”

Koster, the last Democrat to hold the attorney general’s office, lost a bid for governor in 2016 by 6 percentage points.

No prominent Democrats have thrown their hat in the ring as a potential contender yet. Nixon is said to be considering a comeback, though Democrats are conscious that several former Democratic governors to mount red-state Senate bids — Phil Bredesen in Tennessee, Evan Bayh in Indiana and Steve Bullock in Montana — have lost.

Lucas pointed to the congresswoman who represents the district just across the Missouri River, Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) — a former law school classmate — as a model of a different kind of candidate. Davids, who is Native American and a former mixed martial arts fighter, has won two elections in a swing district.

But in a state where Republicans are headed for a competitive primary of their own, Democrats are hopeful that they can end a decade-long losing streak. Former Gov. Eric Greitens (R) and Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R) are already running, and Reps. Ann Wagner (R), Jason Smith (R), Blaine Luetkemeyer (R) and Billy Long (R) are all said to be contemplating the race. Haahr said he expected the field to grow by at least three in the coming months.

Republicans are concerned that Greitens, who left the governorship in disgrace after public revelations that he coerced a woman into an abusive sexual encounter and amid investigations into money spent by a nonprofit he controlled, could put an otherwise safe seat in jeopardy should he win the nomination.

“Democrats smell blood in the water with Eric Greitens running on the Republican side. Greitens is damaged as a result of being a woman beater and a blackmailer and yet Democrats hope that he may win the Republican nomination,” said Gregg Keller, a top Missouri Republican strategist who has not yet backed a candidate in the GOP field. “If Greitens is the Republican nominee, Democrats have a shot at this Senate seat.”

In a statement, Greitens campaign manager Dylan Johnson said the former governor had been “railroaded” out of office.

“Gov. Greitens is the only candidate in this race who has supported President Trump from Day One,” Johnson said. “If anyone else is the Republican nominee, Democrats will have a chance to turn the seat blue, ultimately preventing Republicans from taking back the Senate. We can’t let Missouri political grifters threaten the 2022 election.”

Lucas, a law school professor and city council member before winning election as mayor in 2018, said his experience guiding his city through the coronavirus pandemic would help him connect with Missourians around the state if he decides to run.

“You need voices who have been through a lot in the last two years, who can message to a bunch of different communities,” he said. “There’s a play in the suburbs of St. Louis County. There’s a play in the suburbs of Kansas City.”

Lucas has clashed with members of the Republican-controlled legislature over measures they have passed that impact Missouri’s largest cities, which are controlled by Democrats. He has battled with a police commission largely appointed by Gov. Mike Parson (R) amid protests over police treatment of young Black men that erupted over the summer.

But some Republicans see him as a potentially formidable contender.

“I think he’s incredibly bright, incredibly talented,” Haahr said. “Since he’s been elected, he’s been dealing with Covid, so it’s sort of stunted his ability to demonstrate his political skills.”

Tags 2022 Ann Wagner Billy Long Blaine Luetkemeyer Claire McCaskill Donald Trump Eric Greitens Jason Smith kansas city Missouri Quinton Lucas Roy Blunt Senate Sharice Davids Steve Bullock
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