NEWS ANALYSIS: Missouri lawmakers try to avoid primaries with two incumbents

Sunday, April 1, 2012 | 5:33 p.m. CDT; updated 10:15 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 3, 2012

JEFFERSON CITY — Redrawn voting maps for the Missouri General Assembly shifted numerous lawmakers into the same districts, but maneuvering since then will result in relatively few voters being asked to decide between incumbent legislators in primary elections this year.

Leery of knocking off a sitting lawmaker and possibly dividing loyalties among fellow lawmakers in Jefferson City, legislative leaders worked to forestall any budding political rivalries and to avoid having two elected officials from the same party face each other in a primary.

For the most part, they succeeded. When candidate filing wrapped up last week, fewer than a dozen lawmakers were set to duke it out in a primary against a colleague. That's just a fraction of the legislators who found themselves drawn into the same district with at least one colleague when the new maps were released last year by an appellate redistricting commission.

Most of the incumbent primaries that remain are between Democrats for House seats in the St. Louis area.

State legislative districts are redrawn each decade based on the most recent census. The number of districts does not change but the boundaries for the 163-member House and the 34-member Senate must be adjusted to account for population shifts.

Republicans now control 105 seats in the House, and the new map placed several dozen into suddenly crowded districts. Helping to avoid potentially bruising primaries, some GOP House members are running in different districts and others are not seeking election. A few House Republicans filed this year to run for other offices. In all, it has left no House Republican running in a primary against a colleague.

Rep. Scott Dieckhaus, the executive director for the House Republican Campaign Committee, said avoiding primaries means money is spent against Democratic candidates and not against fellow Republicans. He said the campaign committee discussed the new districts with lawmakers and that many had already been looking for ways to avoid primaries with colleagues.

That, Dieckhaus said, demonstrated the selflessness of House Republicans. He noted that most of the situations were resolved within several days.

"You want to have your incumbents come back — as many as you can," said Dieckhaus, who is from Washington, Mo. "Obviously, any incumbent primary situation would have been difficult for us to work through because every one of our members has relationships. You hate to pit people against each other. I'm glad we were able to avoid that."

House Democrats also worked to avoid primaries between members and the possibility for friendships and alliances to divide their caucus. Minority Leader Mike Talboy said most of the possible primaries between Democrats were prevented, though some situations could not be resolved because of various hurdles. Sometimes there were no nearby open House seats to claim and some lawmakers could move to a new home located in a different district.

"In all of our races, we have productive candidates going against each other, and that's just very unfortunate," Talboy said. "It makes me sad that we have to lose one of the two, but it's just the way everything is going to work out."

The redrawn legislative districts, however, have created a few additional Missouri primaries that will likely garner attention in August.

New Missouri Senate districts provoked a GOP primary in western Missouri with Rep. Mike McGhee challenging the re-election bid of Sen. David Pearce, chairman of the Senate Education Committee. Pearce's reconfigured district lost every county covered by his current seat except for Johnson County, where he lives. Seven counties were added that Pearce has never represented, including Lafayette County, which includes McGhee's home.

In addition, St. Louis voters will decide the survivor in the highest profile primary between incumbents: a fight between U.S. Reps. Russ Carnahan and William Lacy Clay.

Missouri dropped from nine congressional districts to eight after the 2010 census, and the area Carnahan has represented since 2005 was reassigned to several surrounding districts. Instead of running in a Republican-leaning district elsewhere in the St. Louis-area, Carnahan opted for a challenge against Clay, who has represented St. Louis for more than a decade.

Chris Blank has covered state government and politics for The Associated Press since 2005. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisBlank2.

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