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GEORGE KENNEDY: Some election results prove difficult to decipher

Thursday, August 9, 2012 | 3:31 p.m. CDT

Primary elections are always a bit of a tease, sort of like the preliminary heats at the Olympics. At least, now we know who the finalists are, so let’s take a look at what else we may have learned Tuesday.

We saw, I think, one old pro get her wish, one young star take his first upward step and several outcomes that almost cause me to question the wisdom of our fellow Missourians.

The old pro, Sen. Claire McCaskill, gets to run against the opponent she clearly prefers, Rep. Todd Akin. Sure, the only statewide poll I’ve seen shows Akin ahead; but it’s early days. McCaskill has both a lengthy voting record in Congress and the words from Akin's mouth to use as weapons.

This is a guy who doesn’t like the student lunch program or Medicare and who has said, “America has got the equivalent of the stage three cancer of socialism.” He clearly thinks God, as well as Mike Huckabee, is on his side. (It was encouraging, even for a Democrat, to see that the Republican electorate seemed to take the endorsement by that former governor and presidential candidate more seriously than they took the endorsement of Sarah Steelman by that other former governor and presidential candidate, the one from Alaska.)

Still, it won’t be easy for McCaskill. Nothing in her long political career has been. This race is so important to Republican hopes of recapturing the Senate that those outside political action committees unleashed by the Supreme Court have already poured millions into beating her. As the New York Times put it in a headline last week, “Outside cash in Missouri race could be a national model.”

Against Akin, she has a fighting chance.

Locally, you have to feel some sympathy for Nancy Copenhaver. A retired school teacher and former state representative, she was pretty close to the ideal Democratic candidate for the legislature. Her misfortune was to cross the path of the man who has already been anointed by Democratic insiders hereabouts as our next political star.

I was having lunch the day before the election, standing as usual at the bar in Booche’s, when I was joined by one of those Democrats, whom I’ve known and mainly admired for years. I asked him, “What do you know about this John Wright?”

He positively beamed. Wright, he told me, is the real deal. He’s Columbia born and Hickman educated. Not only is he young, smart and rich. He’s deeply committed to public service, already invested in trying to improve education and a nice guy besides.

Among other things, he’s underwriting the new Montessori program for pre-schoolers at Grant Elementary School.

He won’t be in the legislature long, my informant rhapsodized. He’ll be moving up, fast.

Yale Law, where Wright earned his degree after graduating from Yale College No. 1 in his class, has given us one recent Democratic president. Clinton was the name. Serving as a law review editor, one of Wright’s activities, is on the resume of President Barack Obama. Personal wealth, derived in Wright’s case from his Rollins Capital investment company, surely won’t hurt either.

The only young politician close to Wright in promise who came to mind is Stephen Webber, who’s already in the legislature and sure of re-election to a third term. Webber doesn’t have Yale in his background, but he does have two tours with the Marines in Iraq.  

We’ll see. Politics is a humbling profession, as my conversation partner knows.

Some election results can be hard to decipher. One puzzlement to me is this: How could the same Republicans who so strongly supported the Prayer Amendment also re-nominate for lieutenant governor Peter Kinder?

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll report that I voted against the Prayer Amendment, on the grounds that it is both unnecessary (our state constitution and the courts already give religion ample protection) and certain to be a boon to the legal profession (the ACLU has already filed the first lawsuit). Of course, it passed about 4-1.

Kinder didn’t do that well, but somehow enough conservative voters were able to overlook his record of using state funds for private purposes and his public affection for a St. Louis pole dancer to give him a chance to become the longest-serving occupant of the state’s least necessary office.

Too bad Judy Baker won’t get to take him on in November. Her strong hometown support couldn’t match the statewide recognition of Susan Montee, our former state auditor who got caught in the Republican tide last time around and swept out of office.

It’s too early to tell, I think, which way the tide will run this fall. In presidential elections, Missouri has become reliably red. In statewide races, not so much. And here in Boone County, you’ve got to like John Wright’s prospects.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.


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