Missouri Dems count on minimum wage, stem cells to topple Talent

Two Missouri ballot initiatives, to increase the minimum wage and approve stem cell research, have wide cross-party appeal but some Democrats think Democratic Senate candidate Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillIranian attacks expose vulnerability of campaign email accounts Ex-CIA chief worries campaigns falling short on cybersecurity Ocasio-Cortez blasts NYT editor for suggesting Tlaib, Omar aren't representative of Midwest MORE is failing to capitalize on them to topple Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.).

Democrats are concerned that McCaskill, the state auditor, and the coalition of labor unions and left-leaning pressure groups that organized the petition drive to get the minimum wage measure on November’s ballot have done too little to mobilize the Democrat’s traditional base voters.

“It leaves something to be desired and could be infinitely more powerful,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), former mayor of Kansas City. “The proponents of the [wage] initiative should have gone on radio shortly after the August primary. The message has to be out repeatedly until it becomes a McDonald’s discussion.”

Other Democratic sources in Missouri also question whether enough is being done to capitalize on the initiative, which would raise the minimum wage to $6.50 an hour from $5.15. Congress last raised the minimum wage in 1997.

The umbrella group spearheading the GOTV operation, Give Missourians a Raise, is not airing television or radio advertisements, said Sara Howard, the group’s spokeswoman. She would not elaborate on the media strategy.

Give Missourians a Raise is working to register 100,000 new voters and identify so-called drop-off voters who vote in presidential years but tend not to participate in mid-term elections, said John Hickey of Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition, an outfit of unions and community activist groups.

“I think it’d be reasonable assumption that voters [motivated by the minimum wage initiative would] vote for McCaskill,” said Hickey.

On Labor Day, McCaskill campaigned with former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) at a rally to raise the minimum wage. Talent has not taken a position on the initiative, said a top campaign aide.

A St. Louis Post-Dispatch poll this month showed that 68 percent of voters supported an increase in the minimum wage. Democrats also are expected to benefit from a ballot initiative approving stem-cell research. The same poll showed that 58 percent of voters favored the initiative while 37 percent opposed it. Just five percent were undecided. 

Ballot initiatives banning gay marriage were powerful voter mobilization tools in 2004. In Missouri’s primary election in 2004, 1.5 million voters showed up at the polls outpacing traditional turnout levels by 400,000. The measure passed 71 percent to 29 percent. In non-presidential years, ballot initiatives can increase turnout among drop-off voters, according a study by the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center (BISC), a left-of-center think tank.

In 2006, liberal organizations have pushed their own ballot initiatives. Voters will get to decide whether to increase the minimum wage in Missouri and five other states, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Ohio and Montana.

“The question is whether the enthusiasm level is higher for a Talent voter or a McCaskill voter,” said a Missouri GOP lawmaker. “Now it’s mixed.”

While Missouri has trended Republican in recent elections – President Bush won 53 percent of the vote in 2004 – Talent has had no room for error in two statewide races. He won by fewer than 22,000 votes in 2002 and he lost the 2000 gubernatorial race by 21,000 votes.

McCaskill, who lost the gubernatorial race in 2004, used the summer to appeal to rural voters who abandoned Sen. John KerryJohn Forbes KerryOvernight Energy: Farmers say EPA reneged on ethanol deal | EPA scrubs senators' quotes from controversial ethanol announcement | Perry unsure if he'll comply with subpoena | John Kerry criticizes lack of climate talk at debate John Kerry calls out lack of climate questions at debate Democrats' debate divisions open the race to new (or old) faces MORE (D-Mass.) in 2004. She campaigned in rural southwest and southeast Missouri in her recreational van.

Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.) said McCaskill needed to spend time in rural Missouri where “it’s important to voters to see you and feel they are not being forgotten about.”

Adrienne Marsh, McCaskill’s spokeswoman, said, “We needed to change strategies. With a favorable national climate, we need to get into rural communities.” 

Two Democratic lawmakers said McCaskill is relying on surrogates to help drive turnout among base voters.

“That’ll happen to some degree, but we’re down the home stretch and, at this point in most elections, the African American vote should be locked in,” said a Democratic lawmaker.

Talent, meanwhile, has courted voters typically aligned with Democrats, especially blacks. He has held several meetings with black business leaders since August.

Last Sunday, he held an event with 75 black supporters in the historic black district of Kansas City and he is running advertisements on black radio stations and he hired Tiffany Williams, who organized black voters for the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004, and former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-Okla.) helped Talent raise money on Monday, said a senior Talent campaign advisor.

“Both are trying to eat into the other’s traditional base,” said Carnahan, adding that the minimum wage and stem cell issues will help motivate Democratic voters.

“They are very unifying messages,” he said. “There are no trade-offs.”

“In the end, this will be decided in more traditional ways,” said Majority Whip Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntSenate GOP braces for impeachment trial 'roller coaster' Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Pence says Turkey agrees to ceasefire | Senators vow to move forward with Turkey sanctions | Mulvaney walks back comments tying Ukraine aid to 2016 probe On The Money: Senate fails to override Trump veto over border emergency | Trump resort to host G-7 next year | Senators to push Turkey sanctions despite ceasefire | McConnell tees up funding votes MORE (R-Mo.), as Talent and McCaskill begin to appeal to their traditional base.