As Democrats hope to snatch the party’s nomination to the U.S. Senate in 2022 scramble to make themselves known and the Republican pitch increasingly looks like a melee, Jay Nixon quietly waits behind the scenes.
A Democrat who served two terms as governor and four as attorney general, Nixon began responding to calls from national party leaders as US Senator Roy Blunt announced his retirement in March.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer of New York dropped Nixon’s name in calls with donors discussing potential races to watch in 2022 – the only Missourian to be mentioned, according to those interviewed.
Nixon, 65, chats with longtime collaborators, friends and acquaintances, explores the 2022 landscape and weighs his options.
Relatives of the former governor say he has made no decision on his exit from retirement for another statewide race. But he is considering this possibility very seriously.
How serious? After years of being out of the spotlight, Nixon plans to headline the annual Clay County Democrats’ fundraising event next month in Excelsior Springs.
The choice of location is no accident.
Nixon, who did not respond to a request for comment, scored double-digit wins in suburban county in 2008 and 2012, thanks in part to a huge bloc of union voters at the Ford assembly plant at Claycomo.
Clay County’s margins shrank for Democratic candidates statewide in the following years, with Claire McCaskill claiming a two-point victory in 2018 when she lost her Senate seat to Republican Josh Hawley .
“It’s no surprise that the governor’s phone is ringing,” said a source close to Nixon who requested anonymity in order to speak frankly.
Nixon has always won in places “that Democrats have struggled with for the past 10 years. He won in these counties largely because he was able to connect with workers about their day to day economic life. And I think he is concerned that our elected leaders have simply lost touch with ordinary workers.
Jim Kabell, a union leader from Missouri and responsible for the Teamsters, told NBC News earlier this year that a potential Nixon candidacy is getting so much attention because “when he was governor he won in rural Missouri, and that’s the area where we need to strengthen ourselves.”
But while Nixon has been seen in many circles as potentially the party’s best hope of reclaiming a Senate seat in a Republican-leaning state for two decades, not everyone is so optimistic about his chances.
When Nixon’s name last appeared on a ballot, Democrats controlled all but two statewide offices. Today only Auditor Nicole Galloway remains – and she recently announced she will not represent herself after a double-digit loss in the gubernatorial race last year.
“The electorate is now different from what it last faced in 2012,” said Jeremy Walling, professor of political science at Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, later adding: “Nixon would face a electorate in which more voters would support Trump in 2020 than in 2016. I’m not sure I see the gap closing here.
And while rural Missouri is more ruby red than during Nixon’s career, it could also face issues with the party base.
His involvement in ending school desegregation programs in Kansas City and St. Louis as attorney general, as well as his handling as governor of the 2014 Ferguson uprising, left deep traces. rifts between Nixon and many of the state’s black political leaders.
“For a lot of people, Jay Nixon’s time as governor was very marked by everything that happened in Ferguson,” said Rosetta Okohson, Founder and CEO of MO Political advice. “A lot of people don’t feel like Jay has introduced himself.”
Missouri deserves to be excited about the candidates running for the Senate, Okohoson said, and “I don’t think anyone is excited about the candidates who walked out the door and said they were planning to run.” .
The race for the Democratic nomination is already starting to get crowded.
Marine Corps veteran Lance Kunce of Independence, activist Tim Shepard of Kansas City, Former State Senator Scott Sifton d’Afton and entrepreneur Spencer Toder of St. Louis have filed documents with the Federal Election Commission to run for the Senate in 2022.
Of this group, Kunce and Sifton were the only ones to raise significant funds. Both said they raised six figures during the first trimester, with Kunce recently announcing that he had raised over $ 600,000 during the second trimester.
Meanwhile, Republicans running or openly considering a race are raising a lot of money.
Attorney General Eric Schmitt has yet to file his latest campaign finance statements, but announced last week that he had raised $ 1 million.
Former disgraced governor Eric Greitens hasn’t personally raised much money so far. But Politico reported on Tuesday that Richard Uihlein, an executive at a shipping and industrial supply company, is $ 2.5 million donation to a newly formed pro-Greitens super PAC.
United States Representative Vicky Hartzler ended March with nearly $ 700,000 in cash in her federal account, which she can now use for her Senate campaign.
US Representative Jason Smith, who did not participate in the race but did not hide that he is interested, has cash of $ 1.4 million during the same period.
Nixon has proven during his political career that he can raise a lot of money. Those familiar with his thoughts on the race say he is in no rush to decide whether to commit as he is confident he will be able to build up a substantial campaign war chest for 2022.
One factor that could push Nixon into the race is the re-emergence of the Greitens.
Greitens was forced to resign as governor of Missouri in 2018, facing an almost certain impeachment amid a barrage of scandals and felony accusations.
In March, he announced he was running for the Blunt seat, sparking panic among many Republicans who fear he remains popular enough to win an overcrowded primary, but is politically damaged enough to lose to the Democrats in the general election.
This fear inspired an unsuccessful push earlier this year by state lawmakers to change the Missouri primary elections to demand a run-off if no candidate obtains more than 50 percent of the vote.
Nixon’s relatives say he doesn’t want to enter the race unless he sees a path to victory.
He’s been a two-time candidate for the US Senate, defying incumbent Republicans in 1988 and 1998, and has lost big each time.
And while Nixon may seem appealing to party leaders hoping to win back the rural Democrats who voted for Trump in 2016 and 2020, that formula has failed in other states.
Former Governor of Tennessee. Phil bredesen, former governor of Montana. Steve bullock and former governor of Ohio. Ted strickland each ran for the Senate as an elderly statesman who could appeal to white working-class voters who had become reliable Republicans.
Everyone has lost their double-digit race.
Nixon’s long political career could actually work against him, Walling said.
“I don’t know how much of the anti-insider / drain attitude still exists,” he said, “but Nixon is the ultimate insider.”
Nixon and his wife would also enjoy life away from politics, especially Nixon. appreciate his role as a partner at the Dowd Bennet law firm in St. Louis.
Additionally, some of Nixon’s closest advisers are no longer around to help with a future campaign.
John Watson, longtime friend and adviser to the former governor, passed away last year. Others have left politics behind, such as his former lawyer Edward Ardini, who Nixon appointed to Missouri Court of Appeals for the Western District.
But with Democrats barely holding a majority in the U.S. Senate, the potential to make Missouri competitive in 2022 is fanning the flames of those trying to draw Nixon into the race.
“The coalition that you have to put in place in Missouri, it’s very difficult because you just have to hang the moon in the progressive blue areas of the state. And then you have to cut the margins in rural Missouri, ”McCaskill recently told St. Louis Public Radio.
She continued, “I think Jay can cut the margins in rural Missouri. I think he has work to do to make sure the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is excited about him.
Okohoson, who has successfully campaigned across the state including overturn a seat at the State House held by the GOP in 2019, agree with McCaskill.
It’s true Democrats need rural votes to win statewide, Okohoson said, but it can’t come at the expense of the party base.
“You need black women in the state so that you can support you and support you,” she said. “If they say they’re not there and they can’t talk to their family and friends and encourage them to support them and piss everyone off, you’re not going to win. This is just the essential.
This story was produced by the Independent from Missouri, a non-partisan, non-profit news organization covering government, politics and state politics.