In her long-shot bid to become Missouri’s next U.S. senator, Trudy Busch Valentine is leaning on other Democratic candidates around the state to connect with voters and generate enthusiasm.
Along with a barrage of TV ads, her campaign says it is focusing on face-to-face, small events with local Democrats. In the Kansas City area, Busch Valentine has knocked on doors with Democratic candidates in Platte County and participated in get-out-the-vote activities with competitive candidates in Jackson County legislative races, seeking to create grassroots support for herself and other candidates.
Busch Valentine remains the underdog in her race against Republican Eric Schmitt, Missouri’s current attorney general. And picking up gains remains daunting for Missouri Democrats overall. But some observers think Busch Valentine’s alliance with other candidates in her party may produce some benefits down the road.
In 2018, the last time Missourians voted in a U.S. Senate race, they ousted Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in favor of former state Attorney General Josh Hawley by a margin of 51% to 45%. Hawley’s victory was one more decisive sign of Missouri’s plunge into deep red territory, both in federal and statewide races.
Busch Valentine, a nurse and granddaughter of the Anheuser-Busch family, is mostly self-funding her campaign. According to campaign finance reports, she has lent herself $10 million and raised around $1.6 million since the cycle started. In comparison, Schmitt has raised around $5.2 million this cycle without lending himself any money.
Although there’s been minimal polling in the race, Schmitt has been an average of 10 percentage points ahead of Busch Valentine the entire campaign season.
Terry Smith, a professor of political science at Columbia College, said that while Busch Valentine is unlikely to win the race, her campaign structure could help build up a long-term infrastructure for Democrats across the state to use in future elections.
“She’s a novice. She has not run for public office before and it shows,” Smith said. “So what she’s doing while she’s campaigning is just making friends in the Democratic Party locally, which might have long-term payoff.”
In an attempt to build grassroots support from Missourians, Busch Valentine has teamed up with Democratic candidates down the ballot – mainly in competitive state legislative races – for activities like door knocking, canvassing or typical get-out-the-vote activities. Her campaign says they’re trying to help bolster Democrats across the ticket this year and also build a stronger base for future campaigns.
“It’s been super important to our campaign to make sure that, since we are the Democrat at the top with this particular ticket, that we are doing everything possible to lift up Democrats up and down the ballot,” Jacob Long, the communications director for the Busch Valentine campaign, told The Beacon. “Because this November, there is a lot at stake.”
Busch Valentine aiming to boost competitive House races
Democrats in the Missouri state House are attempting to cut into the vetoproof Republican majority in the General Assembly’s lower chamber. Currently, Republicans hold 107 of the 163 seats — enough to ward off any Democratic attempts to uphold a governor’s veto of any bill.
The Missouri House Democratic Campaign Committee, the campaigning arm for House Democrats, lists 13 districts across the state with the potential to flip from red to blue. Five of those are in the Kansas City metro area, two are near Columbia, another four are in the St. Louis metro area and one district is near Springfield.
Democrats are trying to keep an additional six districts from flipping from blue to red, also in the Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield areas. Being successful in holding or flipping their seats, Long said, would be “huge for the House Democrats.”
“That’s why we’ve been coordinating so closely in working with them across the state in developing some synergy with messaging, with door-to-door, phone banking, get out the vote, meet and greets and things like that,” Long added.
Busch Valentine’s schedule has been chock full of things like “canvassing for Democrats” or “Dem days of action,” where volunteers post campaign signs, knock on doors or talk to voters about not only Busch Valentine, but about Democrats up and down the ballot.
Meredith Peace is the current chair of the Platte County Democratic Central Committee, where a number of competitive downballot races are underway. Peace told The Beacon she thinks having smaller campaign events that are often tied to the Busch Valentine campaign, even if the candidate herself isn’t there, helps create more energy around the election.
Earlier in the campaign, Busch Valentine ended an RV bus tour at the Platte County Democrats’ new headquarters.
“That was helpful to our local candidates because it really drew people in that didn’t know about our headquarters and raised awareness about our races. And it also gave those same new people a chance to see the other candidates and what they were about,” Peace said.
“I think that people are always sort of interested in the bigger races and I think that those are the same issues that the downballot candidates are running on. I think all of those issues being addressed by her in person and on social media are great for folks who maybe follow her but didn’t realize that these other candidates are there,” she added.
Busch Valentine has shied away from larger campaign rallies, and she and Schmitt have yet to have a televised debate.
Smith said Busch Valentine’s campaign strategy hasn’t been one that would be enough to close the advantage Schmitt has in polling.
“It’s not the most aggressive campaigning strategy, but certainly people will remember her and remember her favorably because she was there. And, if a couple of these candidates squeak through, she can say, ‘I might have been instrumental in that,’” he said.
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