10-Term Congressman William Lacy Clay Ousted

Yet another incumbent has lost his primary contest.

WaPo (“Longtime Rep. William Lacy Clay loses Democratic primary in Missouri“):

Rep. William Lacy Clay lost the Democratic primary in Missouri on Tuesday night, falling to Cori Bush, an activist who entered politics after the Ferguson protests in 2014 and tapped into the recent energy of the Black Lives Matter movement to upset the 10-term congressman.

The Associated Press projected Bush as the winner in the St. Louis-based district.

“We’ve been called radicals, terrorists,” Bush told supporters in St. Louis. “We’ve been dismissed as an impossible fringe movement. But now, we are a multiracial, multiethnic, multigenerational, multifaith mass movement.”

Bush, a 44-year old nurse and pastor, had never run for office before the Ferguson protests after the fatal shooting of unarmed Black teenager Michael Brown by Darren Wilson, a White police officer. She made a bid for state Senate, then turned her attention to Clay, whose family had held a safe seat from St. Louis since 1969. For the 2018 Democratic primary race, she raised less than $150,000 and, despite a late burst of attention after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ousted a longtime congressman in a Democratic primary in New York, she lost by 20 points.

But Bush remained deeply involved in direct action and liberal politics, becoming a surrogate for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign and getting featured in “Knock Down the House,” a Netflix documentary about Justice Democrats and its project to replace moderate members of Congress with grass-roots activists.

Ahead of Tuesday’s primary, Bush more than tripled her fundraising, even while contracting covid-19 and growing deeply involved in the protests that followed the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. At campaign events, she would talk about surviving the novel coronavirus pandemic and enduring physical harm as protests were broken up and demonstrators were tear-gassed.

[…]

Clay, whose only previous primary challenge came when he and a former colleague were forced into the same district, was slow to respond to Bush. According to the Federal Election Commission, he spent less than $600,000 on the race, and his final mail advertising was largely negative, accusing Bush of being irresponsible with her finances and working closely with critics of Israel.

By that point, Bush and allies had spent plenty of money defining him, with Justice Democrats and another liberal group, Fight Corporate Monopolies, buying ads that accused the incumbent of voting for big corporations on behalf of his donors.

POLITICO (“Progressive challenger Cori Bush beats Rep. Lacy Clay in primary“) adds:

Liberal challenger Cori Bush defeated Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) in a primary for his St. Louis-based House seat on Tuesday — a huge win for the left and a seismic loss for the Congressional Black Caucus, which has tried to snuff out challenges from younger candidates.

Bush’s victory came two years after her first challenge to Clay, which the incumbent won by 20 percentage points. But this cycle, Bush’s campaign was better funded and had more outside help from a wide array of surrogates including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and the Justice Democrats, the group that helped elect Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

[…]

For the left, the outcome is proof that they could translate the momentum from their wins earlier this month in the New York primaries into a victory in the heartland of the country. But it will also further intensify the feud between liberals and CBC leaders, who have forcefully decried challenges against their members.

The Black Caucus had successfully defended two other incumbents from progressive opponents earlier this year: Reps. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) and Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.). CBC members rallied around Clay, hoping to use this primary as another chance to ward off future challenges.

But Bush, who participated in the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Mo., after the police shooting of an unarmed black man, made her activism the centerpiece of her 2020 campaign.

“We’ve been called radicals, terrorists. We’ve been dismissed as an impossible fringe movement,” she said during a victory speech Tuesday night. “But now we are a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-generational, multi-faith mass movement united in demanding change, in demanding accountability, in demanding that our police, our government, our country recognize that Black lives do indeed matter.”

Clay is the seventh incumbent to fall in the 2020 cycle — and the second one on Tuesday after Rep. Steve Watkins (R-Kan.) got trounced by his GOP challenger. Bush’s win represents the end of an era; The Clay family has held Missouri’s 1st District since 1969. Clay was first elected in 2000, succeeding his father, former Rep. Bill Clay (D-Mo.), a co-founder of the Black Caucus.

Bush rode a wave of progressive enthusiasm generated by wins in the New York primaries where Jamaal Bowman, a middle-school principal backed by Justice Democrats, ousted House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), and two other progressives won open seats in the city and its suburbs.

The relative moderate Roger Marshall beating extremist firebrand Kris Kobach is the exception in this cycle and, indeed, the last decade or so of American politics. This race, on the other hand, is more typical: more extremist candidates with bolder views knocking off incumbents with a go along, get along mindset.

In addition to seemingly not having his finger on the pulse of his community during the #BlackLivesMatter reckoning, Clay seems to have simply been lazy and complacent here. He took victory for granted and barely bothered to campaign to keep the seat that he likely viewed as his birthright.

In one sense, the Democrats are now doing what Bill Buckley long advocated for Republicans: nominating the most staunch ideologue that’s electable in a given locality. The Democrats are going to hold this seat regardless of who they nominate. They might as well go ultra-progressive.

But, of course, that mindset makes governing more difficult. As inspiring as a Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may be on the stump, they seldom have much success in putting together a governing coalition.

As the Republicans found when the Tea Party wave took over their congressional delegation, legislating requires compromise. Yet, compromise is tantamount to treason to the devout.

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FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    When I moved to StL my congressman was William L. Clay, when I left StL my congressman was W. Lacy Clay. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree and Lacy never needed to work very hard to assume his father’s congressional seat and not working hard became a habit. Clay deserved to lose and ending his family’s 50 year control over that seat is an unalloyed good thing, but whether Bush will be a benefit to her district is an open question.

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  2. Bill says:

    So the Clay political dynasty may have finally ended? His father was first elected in 1968. Time for a change.

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  3. wr says:

    Of course the Tea Party was a completely invented phenomenon, billionaires splashing cash to get morons to vote for other morons. Not convinced this is entirely the same dynamic.

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  4. EddieInCA says:

    @JamesJoyner

    As the Republicans found when the Tea Party wave took over their congressional delegation, legislating requires compromise. Yet, compromise is tantamount to treason to the devout.

    Unless you get a different Dem Speaker of the House or Minority Leader of the Senate (soon to be Majority Leader), moderation will be the key for Dems. Nancy and Chuck will only put forward bills that have a chance of passing, and if Joe Biden is president, they’ll go for as much as they can. The progressives can either get on board, or watch Nancy make deals with moderate Republicans. Same with Chuck.

    Additionally, as wr stated above, there was nothing organic about the Tea Party movement. If it had been organic and real, they’d have been rioting in the streets over Trump’s spending like a drunken soldier in a Thai Massage Parlor. But they just said….. nothing.

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  5. JohnMcC says:

    Not having closeness to the race in question I see two themes from the MO races. First that the CBC has made enough progress to become the conservative/incumbent choice and isn’t that wonderful! And that OTB does not have a separate post on it but the Medicaid Expansion by popular vote continues unabated.

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  6. Paine says:

    These parent/child handovers of house and senate seats have got to stop. Why on earth the voters buy into it I have no idea.

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  7. Bill says:

    @Paine:

    These parent/child handovers of house and senate seats have got to stop. Why on earth the voters buy into it I have no idea.

    Here we had Carrie and Kendrick Meek. The mother served in Congress from 1993 to 2003. She announced her retirement hours or a day before the filing her deadline. Just plain dumb luck* her son Kendrick, a Florida State legislator at the time, had the filing papers prepared. He got the seat unopposed and held it till he ran for the US Senate in 2010.

    *- You can off the sarcasm now.

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  8. CSK says:

    @Paine:
    The Kennedys are on their third generation of keeping senate and house seats in the family.

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  9. MarkedMan says:

    @EddieInCA:

    make deals with moderate Republicans

    That would actually be a huge change but I fear it is unlikely to happen. For the most part the Republicans who pretended to be open to negotiations with the Obama era Democratic leadership melted away when push came to shove. They were never seriously looking for compromise, they were looking for the perfect balance where they could tell their more moderate voters that they gave serious consideration but some particular fatal flaw drew them up short on principles , while simultaneously telling the lunatic base of their party that they gave an honest listen but would never give in to socialism! Live free or die!

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  10. Gustopher says:

    But, of course, that mindset makes governing more difficult. As inspiring as a Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may be on the stump, they seldom have much success in putting together a governing coalition.

    AOC has been a reliable vote, and has been pretty excellent with questioning people for oversight. She’s a freshman Representative, so I don’t know what you’re expecting.

    It’s very possible to be a voice on the left, push for the left, and then compromise where needed. She seems to be doing so. Unlike Bernie, she is a Democrat, and she acts like one.

    Further, the Democrats aren’t likely to have a huge number of people that far to the left. The ones we have open up the range of policies to be considered, but they don’t dominate the party or the agenda.

    There should be a handful of far left politicians in the House, and a handful of far right. The problem is there are more than a handful of far right, and almost no moderate conservatives, but that’s a very Republican problem.

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  11. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Paine:

    Far too many voters show up on election day and have no clue as to who will be on the ballot. They see a name they recognize and mark it down.

    @CSK:

    In Mass the Kennedy’s add in the romance of the Irish Catholic family that ascended to the pinnacle of the state’s social, political and economic mount. We crazy Irish are susceptible to those myths, we were well trained by the priests and nuns. 🙂

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  12. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Gustopher:

    AOC seems to be moving in the direction of a Barney Frank, realizing to be effective she needs to be inside the tent. Of the Squad members, she has allied herself more with Pressley, a pretty shrewd operator, than Tlaib or Omar. She is also paying attention Pelosi, realizing that Madame Speaker knows how to get sh$t done.

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  13. Jen says:

    @Paine:

    These parent/child handovers of house and senate seats have got to stop. Why on earth the voters buy into it I have no idea.

    Missouri also has a few spousal handovers of seats. Both Jeanne Carnahan and Joanne Emerson succeeded their husbands in the US Senate and US House, respectively.

    Aside from Lacy Clay, both Roy Blunt and his son Matt have been MO governors. I’m sure I’m missing some others.

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  14. MarkedMan says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    Far too many voters show up on election day and have no clue as to who will be on the ballot. They see a name they recognize and mark it down.

    Heh. A story that comments on both parts of your post above.

    When I was a kid I walked in on my father, indignant, going on to my poor mother about some election shenanigans. I gradually realized that what he considered shenanigans was that his usual voting behavior had an unexpected outcome. Like many an immigrant (he was born and raised in Ireland and emigrated as an adult) he took voting very seriously. He usually knew who he was going to vote for on every line, but it was Chicago and there were a lot of lines so sometimes he couldn’t remember. His normal practice in these circumstances was to pull the lever for the most Irish sounding name he could find. (If there was more than one, he picked the one that sounded most likely to be from County Clare.) In this case he voted for a Michael Murphy, and that vote was not inconsequential because the candidate had just barely squeaked by. As a winner, his picture had appeared in the paper and my father was astounded to see that Mr. Murphy was, shall we say, of a much darker complexion than any Irishman he had every met. He was convinced it was all a trick…

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  15. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Jen:

    Let us not forget that up here in Cow Hampshire we have our share of political nepotism and I’ll mention the Gregg’s and Sununu’s to start with and the Pappas’s on the Dem side. I’m sure there are others that aren’t jumping to mind.

    @MarkedMan:

    Something similar happened in Boston in the early 70’s near the height of the anti-busing protests. There was an AA gentleman O’Somethingorother on the ballot for school committee. At the time there was still the tradition that the Irish only voted for the Irish, Italians for Italians etc. Given that all seats on the committee were at large, any under vote, inflated the value of votes that a candidate received. Mr O’Something did quite well and the following morning there was quite a shock in Southie, Charlestown and sections of Dorchester, when they opened their morning Globe, Herald or most likely, the Record American and saw a picture of a black face as a new school committeeman.

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  16. Roger says:

    @Jen: Not to get too deep in the weeds, but though the Blunt family nepotism runs deep Roy and Matt were not both governors. Roy ran for governor, but lost in the Republican primary to Bill Webster before Webster lost in the general to Mel Carnahan and went from Missouri’s attorney general to the penitentiary. You got this detail wrong, but I think your larger point holds true.

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  17. An Interested Party says:

    But, of course, that mindset makes governing more difficult. As inspiring as a Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may be on the stump, they seldom have much success in putting together a governing coalition.

    As the Republicans found when the Tea Party wave took over their congressional delegation, legislating requires compromise. Yet, compromise is tantamount to treason to the devout.

    As others have implied, this does not seem like a very apt comparison…when AOC and her fellow progressive members of Congress start acting like Rand Paul or Ted Cruz, maybe the link will be more appropriate…

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  18. Jen says:

    @Roger: You are absolutely correct and I should have remembered that!

    I was in MO politics during that primary bloodletting between Webster and Blunt. There are still political fault lines in Missouri from that primary.

    Blunt went from the US House to the US Senate. I left Missouri before Matt was elected governor. I did know Lacy Clay when he was a State Senator, and was mildly surprised to see he lost his race, but timing and turnout matter a lot.

  19. EddieInCA says:

    @Jen:

    Just an anecdote: I’m related by marriage to former Missouri Gov. Bob Holden, and was fortunate enough to be at his January 2001 inauguration. That was an amazing week for this latino kid from East Los Angeles. I still have a photo in my house of me with Gov. Holden and his wife, Lori, from the inauguration.

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  20. Jen says:

    @EddieInCA: Bob Holden was IIRC the state treasurer when I lived there. My memory of him is he was a very good person–exactly the type you want in politics.

    I always hope these types of memories can stand the test of time!

  21. Monala says:

    @Sleeping Dog: @MarkedMan: a couple of decades ago, Linda Dorcena, the daughter of Haitian immigrants to Boston, married Bill Forry, the scion of a prominent Boston Irish-American family. Ms. Dorcena Forry went on to a career in politics, and one year, she was selected as the chair of the city’s St. Patrick’s Day breakfast. When she called the African-American governor at the time, Deval Patrick, up to the podium to say a few remarks, he quipped, “This is what a Forry and a Patrick look like in Boston these days.”

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  22. Monala says:

    @Sleeping Dog: this is one reason I love vote by mail. Yeah, they send you that huge book with all the candidates and issues, but who wants to wade through all that, especially when many of the people in the booklet aren’t candidates in your district?

    Instead, with vote by mail, I can pull out my ballot, look at exactly who the candidates in my district are, look them up and make a decision.

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  23. DrDaveT says:

    Yet, compromise is tantamount to treason to the devout.

    I am shocked — shocked! — to hear you assert that both sides do it.

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