Nixon, Robin Carnahan exhort Democrats to remember that politics is serious business
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a veteran sportsman, loves to use sports analogies in his political speeches. But at Saturday’s Democratic state convention, he made a point of emphasizing that politics isn’t a sport — even if it is often treated like one.
“This isn’t a game where you look up at the scoreboard,’’ the governor said in his address closing out this weekend’s gathering of more than 400 party activists to choose delegates to the presidential convention.
“This is the game of life.”
Expanding access to health care, improving public education, keeping student loans affordable and creating jobs are life-changing actions that Democrats should be proud to embrace, Nixon said.
But to fulfill those objectives, he added, Democrats have “got make sure we’re all on the field, working hard.”
Nixon’s remarks bracketed warnings Saturday morning by Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, who declared that the real issues facing the state’s Democrats boiled down to two words: cash and complacency.
She exhorted Democrats to use "your compassion, your devotion, your commitment" to counter what she predicted would be unprecedented outside spending by conservative groups bent on defeating the state's top Democrats.
Outside spending contributed to her 2010 loss for the U.S. Senate, and now is seen as a big challenge for U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., as she seeks re-election this fall.
"We can beat the money with our passion. We can beat the money with our candidates," said Carnahan. "But not if we're complacent."
Primary contests test camaraderie
Although they avoided last week’s GOP fight over lunch, Missouri Democrats at Lake of the Ozarks this weekend to choose national convention delegates got a glimpse of their own sources of indigestion.
Three of the party’s best-known women — former state Auditor Susan Montee, state Rep. Sara Lampe and former legislator Judy Baker -- are battling for lieutenant governor. All three showed up to woo Democratic support.
Two St. Louis congressmen — Russ Carnahan and William Lacy Clay Jr. — are competing for one Democratic-leaning seat in a contest that could elevate regional and racial tensions. Carnahan addressed conventioneers and emphasized his support for civil rights.
And while Missouri’s 400-plus conventioneers made clear they are solidly behind President Barack Obama, some activists tacitly acknowledged that he’s unlikely to carry Missouri in November against likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
“That’s a fair assumption,’’ said C.T. Sharp, the Democrats’ district chairman for the 2nd congressional district.
The concern, voiced privately and occasionally publicly by some delegates, was whether an Obama loss might trickle down and hurt McCaskill. Recent polls have shown her in tight contests — or trailing — all three of her major Republican rivals: former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, U.S. Rep. Todd Akin and St. Louis businessman John Brunner.
Sharp and St. Louis Democratic Party chairman Brian Wahby, who is a member of the Democratic National Committee, both said they were confident about McCaskill’s chances, especially once it was clear who her Republican opponent would be.
But some other party leaders said privately that an Obama loss in Missouri by more than 4 percentage points could potentially drag down McCaskill as well.
McCaskill missed the state convention. She explained in a video aired to conventioneers that her mother just got out of the hospital and "is not doing so well right now."
Her mother, Betty Ann McCaskill, is featured in a powerful new McCaskill TV ad running statewide. In the spot, the senator’s mother touts her daughter's efforts to help veterans and protect their benefits.
Amid the mental handwringing, delegates eagerly embraced Secretary of State Robin Carnahan’s message, in effect, to buck up.
“It’s up to us to tell the story of what’s really going on,’’ said Carnahan, asserting that national news media and pundits often have mischaracterized what’s on the minds of the public – and the president's record.
"The reality these people live in is different from the reality I live in,’’ Carnahan said. “We've got a president standing for conviction...putting people ahead of politics at every turn. We deserve a leader like Barack Obama … who will stand for things.”
Carnahan, who is not running for re-election, declared that she planned to hit the streets on behalf of Democratic candidates. “I’m going to be out there, and I hope you’ll be at my side,’’ she said.
Governor calls for teamwork
All told, Missouri Democrats will send 102 delegates and seven alternates to the national presidential convention in Charlotte, N.C., in early September. Saturday's voting filled out the remainder of the delegates.
The Democratic delegates include all Democratic statewide officeholders and more than a dozen St. Louis area officials, including St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, Comptroller Darlene Green and St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley.
Also among the delegates: former U.S. Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, D-St. Louis County.
Nixon, the titular head of the state Democratic Party, sought to deliver a message about teamwork — partisan and nonpartisan.
He avoided mentioning Obama or any politicians, Republican or Democrat, choosing instead to focus on issues.
The governor, who is seeking re-election, cited his administration’s efforts to create jobs and handle disasters — such as tornado-stricken Joplin and the snowstorm that forced a rare shutdown of Interstate 70.
He noted that Missouri has seen 35,000 new jobs, the 6th highest in the country. And Nixon cited his vetoes of bills that he said would hurt the state’s chances of getting ahead, including a measure that he said would have encouraged job discrimination.
Without mentioning the Republican-controlled General Assembly by name, Nixon emphasized the importance of “common ground’’ and of Jefferson City officials who “rolled up our sleeves. We got to work and we did it together.”
The governor said that, heading into campaign mode, Democrats must do the same. “Fellow Democrats, there is too much at stake,’’ Nixon said. “We need every one of our players in the game.”
He recounted an amateur softball league game in his past, where he almost got into a fight with the shortstop.
His decision about his course of action changed, Nixon said, when he noticed that the shortstop’s team had cleared the benches to stand behind their player.
“The rest of my team was still in the dugout," Nixon recounted ruefully.
That scenario can’t be repeated, he continued, if Democrats are to win in November.