JEFFERSON CITY — Scores of hopeful candidates turned out Tuesday to file for political offices in Missouri, including a pair of incumbent St. Louis congressman now poised to square off in a Democratic primary, despite legal uncertainty over the district boundaries.
The candidacy filing period for the 2012 elections kicked off as planned, even though Missouri still lacks a final map for the state Senate districts and the Missouri Supreme Court has yet to rule on challenges to the state and U.S. House districts.
The first to file Tuesday was Democratic U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan of St. Louis, whose 3rd District was carved up and re-assigned to surrounding districts under a reapportionment plan enacted by the Republican-led state legislature after the 2010 census. Until Tuesday, Carnahan has steadfastly affirmed he would run again in 2012 but had remained silent about in which district he would run — hoping the Supreme Court would toss out the new map and order a do-over on the boundaries.
Carnahan filed to run in the 1st District in St. Louis, which currently is held by Democratic U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay. Not too far behind Carnahan in line, Clay also filed to run for re-election Tuesday, setting up a battle in the August primaries that both congressmen declared they could win.
"Game on," Clay told a reporter after Carnahan filed for office and then greeted Clay standing in line.
Clay said he was disappointed that Carnahan is challenging him.
"I'm sure most Democrats are," Clay said. "It's not helping us as far as trying to win back the House. We need to pick up 25 seats, and you don't pick up 25 seats by taking away one."
Carnahan said he filed in the reshaped 1st District because it encompasses his house, which he said makes him as much of an incumbent as Clay. But Carnahan said he still hopes the Supreme Court will strike down the new congressional boundaries, which he described as "clearly and badly gerrymandered."
"Chaos seems to be the new normal in politics in Missouri," Carnahan said. "But we'll get through this."
Carnahan's sister, Robin Carnahan, is secretary of state, whose job it is to accept candidate filings and preside over Missouri's elections. She had suggested that candidates for the state Senate may want to wait to file until nearer to the March 27 end of the filing period. That's because a new, tentative map for the Senate districts was released just last week by a bipartisan commission and cannot be finalized until after a 15-day public comment period. But several state Senate candidates turned out to file anyway Tuesday.
State Senate candidates were free to file under whatever district number they chose. If those district boundaries and numbers change, however, the candidates may have to withdraw and re-file under new district numbers, paying an additional $100 filing fee.
Although the uncertainty of the boundaries was not the fault of the secretary of state's office, it nonetheless was the entity having to deal with the problem on Tuesday.
"What I'm disappointed about is it causes a lot of confusion for voters and for people who might want to step up and decide they want to run for something," said Robin Carnahan. "It doesn't reflect well on the process that they can't do what would seem to be the most straight-forward of tasks, and that is settle on the boundaries within a timeline that's dictated by statute."
One reason it's popular to file for office on the first day possible — even with the uncertainty over boundaries — is that many politicians believe they can pick up a few votes by being placed first on the ballot. On the first day of filing, candidates draw numbers to determine their ballot placement. Those who file on subsequent days are placed on the ballot according to the order in which they file.
Although he was not the first to make it through the filing process, the first person waiting in line Tuesday was Republican gubernatorial candidate Dave Spence, who was celebrating his 54th birthday. With a coffee cup in hand, he got to the secretary of state's office about an hour before filing opened. It paid off when he drew a lower ballot-placement number than fellow Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Randles. Both are seeking to challenge Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.