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Aug 6, 2004 12:12 am

Primary Trends?

Tuesday's primaries in MO and Kansas offered some interesting patterns that might be worth watching.

First, the son of former governor Mel Carnahan and former senator Jeanne Carnaham won the Democratic primary to succeed Dick Gephardt. That, however, is not the news. The news is that his victory wasn't clear until noon Wednesday. Russ Carnahan almost lost to a first-time candidate, an adjunct poli sci professor at WashU named Jeff Smith, whose chief asset was his support from Howard Dean. A week more and Smith might have won. The result gives some credence to the article by Jonathan Cohn in this week's New Republic about Dean's efforts to imitate the Christian right's takoever of the GOP by showing his power at the grassroots level.

Across the state, Dems in the district that includes Kansas City and its suburbs elected former KC mayor Emmanuel Cleaver over another first time candidate, Jamie Metzl, who sported an endorsement from, among others, Dick Clarke. There wasn't much doubt about the more qualified candidate: Cleaver, dogged by ethics charges, repeatedly admitted that he had no opinion on most national and international issues, while Metzl was among the most impressive congressional candidates of either party I've seen in the last few elections. But in this primary, at least, Cleaver's ability to argue for domestic issues being more important than the war on terror succeeded--along, of course, with name recognition. He won 3-2.

One possible vulnerable Dem seat, meanwhile, looks less so now--the bitterly divided GOP in Kansas's 3rd District, occupied by Dem Dennis Moore, appear to have rejected the frontrunning, pro-choice candidate, Adam Taff, who lost on election night by 87 votes. We don't know for sure, though: Kansas election officials--concerned with voter fraud (in Kansas!!)--instituted a new requirement for voters to show photo ID. Those without it--more than 3000--were allowed to cast provisional ballots, but they have to return by Monday to confirm their identities (in Kansas!!).

Last, and probably most significant, MO voters overwhelmingly passed a gay marriage ban constitutional amendment. The possible ramifications for the fall campaign: turnout was 400,000 higher than expected, mostly from rural areas that overwhelmingly voted for the amendment. The anti-gay-marriage amendment strategy could be a possible tipping issue in Ohio and Michigan, which have such amendments, especially if, as appears likely, turnout is critical to deciding the Bush-Kerry winner.

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