Missouri Primary Pits Two Democratic Congressmen Against Each Other

Rep. Russ Carnahan, left, and Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr. are in a heated battle in Missouri's  Aug. 7 Democratic primary.

Missouri Primary Pits Two Democratic Congressmen Against Each Other

Two Democratic congressmen in Missouri are locked in a contentious primary battle.

Published July 6, 2012

They are two of the best-known politicians in the state of Missouri, each with a celebrated political pedigree. But redistricting has eliminated one of the state’s congressional districts, leaving Representative William Lacy Clay Jr. and fellow Representative Russ Carnahan locked in a hard-fought Democratic primary for the same seat.


The red-hot competition between the two congressmen has left Democrats — many of whom have known the Clay and Carnahan families for decades — highly displeased about the prospect of having to choose a side. The race has become a highly competitive contest of charges and countercharges, with an undercurrent of racial politics.

Clay, who was first elected to Congress in 2000, is from a well-known African-American political dynasty. His father previously represented the 1st Congressional District of Missouri for more than 30 years.

Carnahan, too, comes from strong political stock. He is the son of the late Mel Carnahan, the former governor of Missouri and posthumous United States senator-elect, and Jean Carnahan, who was appointed to the Senate to fill the seat to which her husband was posthumously elected. His grandfather, A. S. J. Carnahan, served in Congress for seven terms, and also as the U.S. ambassador to Sierra Leone. Carnahan was elected in 2004.

The two had a collegial relationship. But then Missouri’s legislature redrew the lines to reflect the declining population in the St. Louis metropolitan area. As a result, Carnahan’s district, which covers the central and south portions of St. Louis and the adjacent suburbs, was eliminated and much of it included in the district represented by Clay. Carnahan decided to challenge Clay for the seat.

The competition between the two politicians has had acrimonious moments, not to mention the periodic allusions to racial politics. In fact, Clay’s retired father recently spoke out on the implications of the primary contest. He argued that Carnahan’s family had been the beneficiaries of Black political support for years. Mel Carnahan’s decision to challenge his son, the elder Clay said, "Could have a chilling effect on Black people’s belief in the viability of their vote.”

Carnahan, who is white, has received endorsements from some powerful groups in Missouri, including the Fraternal Order of Police and the Missouri chapter of the National Education Association. On the other hand, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and Gov. Jay Nixon have endorsed Clay for the race.  

Carnahan has accused Clay of missing important votes related to funding and support of the Congressional Black Caucus. Clay has accused Carnahan of making false claims against him, particularly with regard to the Caucus.

“My opponent claimed that I do not support the budget priorities of the Congressional Black Caucus because I was not present on the floor when the CBC’s budget was voted on this year and in 2011,” Representative Clay said. “He also claimed that he is a ‘brave, progressive Democrat.’ On top of both of these claims being ludicrous, congressman Carnahan’s hypocrisy is shocking.”

Many politicians and political observers give the edge to Clay, given his having represented more of the newly configured district. However, there is bound to be more barbs being tossed between the two Democrats before the Aug. 7 Democratic primary. 

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(Photo: UPI/Bill Greenblatt/Landov)

Written by Jonathan P. Hicks

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