In the comments thread earlier today, some were wondering why Justice Democrats were endorsing a primary challenger for Lacy Clay. I wondered, too. I don’t know a lot about Justice Democrats, but I generally like the idea of primary challenges for safe-seat Democrats from the left. So, is Clay a worthy target?
In 2000, William L (Lacy) Clay, Jr, succeeded his dad, William L (Bill) Clay, who won the MO-1 seat in 1968. Lacy held the seat without a primary challenge until 2012, when Missouri lost a seat due to redistricting, and Lacy easily beat Russ Carnahan in the primary. Lacy had no challenger in 2014, and he easily beat state Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal 63-27 in 2016 (she was facing term limits in 2018, and moved to the state leg. Bill Haas got 10% in that primary). In 2018, he faced Cori Bush, who got 37% of the vote in the primary.
Bush raised $150K in that primary, all of from individual contributors. Clay’s re-elect committee raised $660K, $580K of that came from PACs. About $200K of that money came from Financial, Insurance and Real Estate industry PACs. Clay sits on the Financial Services Committee.
Clay’s list of contributors looks like your basic moderate Democratic Congressman’s list of funders. Some of them might make you wonder – for instance, Rent-A-Center spent $13K help him beat Carnahan in 2012.
Clay’s D+29 district has a black majority and $46K median income. A half full glass of water could get elected there on the Democratic line. Clay has averaged about $650K in fundraising over the last decade, even though he didn’t have a serious challenge until the last cycle.
Clay generally has good rankings from the usual liberal causes. But, if you look at the GovTrack ideology/leadership chart, Clay is squarely in the broad middle. (Run your mouse over that and check out other long-term members like Nadler, who’s far more liberal.)
So we have a 50-year Clay dynasty, currently led by the second generation, who seems to take a lot of PAC money, and has a decent but not outstanding liberal record. Should Lacy Clay be challenged? I don’t see why not. Is Cori Bush a decent challenger? I didn’t find any reason to think she wasn’t – she’s a pastor, nurse and co-director of a non-profit. I couldn’t find anything damning about her online, and her campaign site hardly mentions Clay.
The Congressional Black Caucus has rallied to help Clay, just as they rallied to help Mike Capuano before he was beaten by Ayanna Pressley in the 2018 primary. To me, that’s a “so what” – the CBC is an establishment group dedicated to preserving establishment candidates.
Overall, Clay seems a little too establishment and centrist for such a safe district. The fact that he’s getting primaried seems, overall, a healthy thing for the Democratic party, no matter what he says, or what his staffers tell the establishment gossip rag The Hill. As a liberal, I’d be happier if someone a little more adverse to the financial services industry had Clay’s seat on that committee.
If anyone from Clay’s district is a reader, I’d be especially interested in your take on the race.