COLUMBIA — For the first time in more than half a century, voters in Missouri’s 9th Congressional District won’t be able to choose between candidates from the two major parties in a general election.
No Democrat filed to run this cycle, leaving only a Republican and Libertarian on November's ballot.
The last time a major party failed to nominate a candidate in the Ninth District was in 1956, when Democrat Clarence Cannon won an uncontested general election, according to data from the clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives.
In Missouri, the last time there was no challenger to an incumbent congressman was in 1984, when Democrat Dick Gephardt was re-elected to the Third District.
Nationwide, it is unusual — but not unheard of — for incumbents to have an almost free ride.
In this year's midterm election, only 30 of the 435 congressional seats at stake are uncontested, according to data compiled from the Center for Responsive Politics listing of all congressional races.
Ninth District candidate and Libertarian party nominee Christopher Dwyer said people he’s talked to this election season are surprised at the lack of a Democratic challenger to incumbent Blaine Luetkemeyer.
“There are some Democrats out there who don’t realize there’s no Democrat in this race,” Dwyer said.
Dwyer is also hopeful that the lack of a Democrat in the Nov. 2 election could benefit him.
“Sure, you have Republicans who will only vote for Republicans,” Dwyer said. “But what you may also see is Democrats who will by no means vote Republican, and might take a chance on a Libertarian.”
Dwyer said he looked forward to debating Luetkemeyer and running against him in the coming months.
Ryan Hobart, spokesman for the Missouri Democratic Party, said he was surprised no candidates filed to run, but acknowledged it would have been an expensive campaign.
"We were actively recruiting candidates up to the [March 30] filing date," Hobart said. "Unfortunately there was no one we could find who would be able to take on the challenge."
Hobart said he could not remember the last time the party could not find a candidate for any of Missouri's congressional seats, but said the party would definitely keep looking for suitable nominees for the 2012 election.
"The 9th District is a place we care about," he said.
Future of the district
The 9th District, however, might not continue to exist. The talk in Missouri political circles is that the state might lose a House seat due to lower-than-average population growth compared to the rest of the U.S.
Because the 9th is the most recently formed district, it could be slated to be eliminated and absorbed into another district.
Across the country, current population demographic trends show states in the Northeast and Midwest aren’t growing as fast as those in the South and West.
Census participation is the main determinant of legislative boundaries and federal funding for states. In mid-July, Luetkemeyer made a statement reminding and encouraging Missourians to return their census forms.
Missouri’s 2010 census participation rate of 73 percent is slightly above the national average of 72 percent; those figures only include mail participation by April 27, not door-to-door returns and late mailings, according to Census.gov.
Members of Congress and government officials joined Luetkemeyer in asking citizens to get counted, especially in Midwestern states with low population growth. The top five participating states were all from the Midwest: Michigan, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin had participation rates ranging from 78 to 81 percent.
After every census, congressional districts are shuffled and more populous states are eligible to gain new districts at the expense of slower-growing states.
David Robertson, professor of political science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said that representatives with the least experience, such as Luetkemeyer, historically have a greater chance of seeing their district absorbed into another. Newer representatives might not have as much support as senior members of their party in keeping their seats.
Ultimately, it would be up to the state legislature to redraw boundaries based on population. In the Missouri legislature, both the House and Senate have formed special standing committees on redistricting.
Robertson said any redistricting that takes place generally plays to the advantage of the majority party. In Missouri, Republicans have a majority in the legislature, and Republican areas of the state are growing faster, he said.
Final 2010 census data will not be released until December, so it is too early to make a formal conclusion on the fate of the 9th District or to make definite predictions about how any congressional boundaries may be redistricted.
However, Polidata, a demographic and political analysis firm, said Missouri’s prospects of retaining its current nine districts are looking better than they did two years ago.
According to its most recent projections, Missouri is the “last in” among states at risk of losing a seat.
Polidata expects Missouri to keep its nine districts by a margin of approximately 10,000 people, the smallest margin of any state predicted to gain or lose a district.
Polidata makes it clear that its projections are based off of estimates, and not an actual count of people.
Robertson agreed that Missouri could be at-risk.
"It looks like we're right on the borderline," he said. "It'll either be Minnesota or Missouri."