Missouri's Senate Race, and the (Possible) Return of the Clinton Coattails

Why Democrats scored a Senate candidate in a red state.

Former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton attend the Oscar de la Renta: American Icon reception at the William J. Clinton Presidential Center on July 08, 2013 in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Photographer: Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Jason Kander, Missouri's 33-year old secretary of state, has given Democrats that rarest of post-2014 feelings: Enthusiasm about a red state race. He's running for U.S. Senate against first-term Senator Roy Blunt, a Republican who left a safe House seat to win office in the 2010 Tea Party wave. (He defeated the previous Democratic secretary of state, Robin Carnahan.) "Barely halfway through his first term as secretary of state and Democrat Jason Kander is already bored with his job," thundered the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which in 2012 supported Ohio's 35-year-old Josh Mandel, and in 2014 supported Arkansas's 35-year-old Tom Cotton.

What could make Kander seek higher office in a state that rejected the Obama-Biden ticket by 9.5 points in 2012? This is easy: the next Democratic ticket is likely to be led by Hillary Clinton. Kander's move should be seen as the latest burst of red state Democratic enthusiasm about the return of the Clintons. In the large swath of red America where white voters preferred Clinton to Obama in 2008, many Democrats see the Clinton restoration as the removal of a heavy anchor. Bill Clinton twice won Missouri, West Virginia, Arkansas, and Kentucky–all states lost by Obama. Even if Hillary Clinton can't repeat that, Democrats hope her brand will alienate fewer voters than the toxic Obama brand.

"It's much easier to convince people to run," said Kentucky Speaker of the House Greg Stumbo, a Democrat whose colleagues held on to control in the rough 2014 elections even as Senator Mitch McConnell was winning a landslide re-election. "Even some of the ones that were talking about retiring–they're kind of giddy. They were tired of getting beat up in some of these races."

In 2008, Clinton absolutely pulverized Obama in Kentucky's late primary, taking 66 percent of the vote even after the Illinois Democrat was clearly about to secure the nomination. Obama actually defeated Clinton in Missouri (helped by the early and aggressive support of Senator Claire McCaskill), but he did so by taking only six of the state's 114 counties. Since then, Missouri Democrats had two rough midterms and a 2012 saved by the black swan gaffe-ability of the Republicans' Senate candidate, Todd Akin. Kander, like Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris Koster, is looking for a way for a post-Obama Democratic Party to rebuild as much of the old Clinton coalition as voters allow.

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