JEFFERSON CITY — Democrats hope a ballot proposal to hike Missouri's minimum wage will boost support for Sen. Claire McCaskill's re-election, a seat Republicans are targeting as a top opportunity to insulate their Senate majority.
Even if the measure's presence on the Nov. 6 ballot only spikes engagement from otherwise apathetic Democrats, as some political experts predict, it could give the incumbent a needed boost as she fights for her job against GOP Attorney General Josh Hawley in a state President Donald Trump won by 19 points in 2016.
McCaskill benefited from a similar minimum wage ballot measure during her first Senate campaign in 2006. The group sponsoring that measure spent more than $470,000 to send hundreds of canvassers into densely populated urban Democratic precincts to encourage people to vote. The wage hike passed overwhelmingly, and McCaskill narrowly won.
"There are definitely some similarities between driving people to the polls with (minimum wage) and with (right to work)," said Democratic consultant Jack Cardetti, who worked on McCaskill's 2006 campaign. "We know that when an issue directly impacts your pocket book, you're more likely to go out and vote."
The proposal would gradually raise the state's current $7.85 minimum wage to $12 an hour. McCaskill has said she supports a minimum wage hike and will make worker rights a tenet of her campaign. When asked about the measures on the November ballot, including the minimum-wage proposal, Hawley said he still needs to read through them and make up his mind on how to vote.
Cardetti predicted the minimum wage hike could boost Democratic turnout in the same way a measure to ban compulsory union fees did earlier this month during Missouri's primary. Cardetti also served as a spokesman for a group opposing the "right-to-work" measure, which voters strongly defeated.
That issue had been slated for the November ballot, but the Republican-led Legislature switched it to the August primary. Republican lawmakers said they wanted the issue voted on as soon as possible, but the move likely spared Hawley and other Republicans from a surge in Democratic-leaning union turnout during the general election. Republican consultant James Harris, who is working on Hawley's campaign, said the move by Republican lawmakers was probably "very wise."
Missouri lawmakers didn't have a chance to switch the date of the vote on minimum wage, which was certified for the November ballot months after they adjourned from their annual session.
Other issues on November's ballot in Missouri include medical marijuana, a gas tax hike and a proposal to change redistricting and limit lobbyist gifts to state lawmakers. Republican and Democratic strategists, along with political scientists, said those issues trend nonpartisan and likely won't significantly help voter turnout for one party or the other.
"Of all those, I think minimum wage is the one that most viscerally connects because that's kind of the closest to our core of who we are," said Missouri Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Webber, who added that the issue will be among the top priorities for the party in the months leading up to the election.
But there are mixed results on how much spillover impact such a measure traditionally has on other races.
An Arkansas minimum wage initiative, which passed overwhelmingly in 2014, didn't provide enough of a boost to Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor to prevent him from getting ousted by Republican challenger Tom Cotton.
Harris said Missouri's minimum wage measure is unlikely to turn out the same union workers who helped defeat right to work and who tend to make more than minimum wage.
Retired political scientist Steven Puro predicted minimum wage will get "some play" but not much compared to the high-profile Senate race. American University political communications expert Molly O'Rourke said that's because it's not a hyper-partisan issue, such as abortion, that would drive voters to the polls regardless of what else is on the ballot.
Still, she said it likely will help focus and engage voters in a midterm election year when turnout tends to be lower than during presidential races. And she said it presents an opportunity for "synergy" between McCaskill's messaging and minimum wage proponents that are targeting similar groups of voters.