In Missouri’s deep-red 97th General Assembly district, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton by a 61-33 margin in 2016. Republican State Representative John McCaherty won reelection in the same year with almost 75 percent of the vote. McCaherty crushed a Libertarian candidate in that race; Democrats didn’t even bother to contest the seat.
So when McCaherty quit the seat last year to focus on a campaign for Jefferson county executive, Republicans had little reason to fear they would lose it in a special election. They slated the son of a popular former legislator from the region, and he ran on a conservative platform that, local media pointed out, mirrors that of other Republicans in the Show-Me State.
Then the “sure-thing” Republican lost.
Democrat Mike Revis, a 27-year-old Anheuser-Busch employee who said he was inspired to run because of his frustration with Republican policies that serve “multimillionaires who buy influence with elected officials,” swept to victory Tuesday night with a 52-48 margin. That represented a 31-point swing from the 2016 presidential race numbers, and a 37-point swing from the last time a Democrat sought the seat.
Remarkable, right? Yes, and no. The district southwest of St. Louis has been electing Republicans by comfortable margins for a long time. So this is a breakthrough win for Missouri Democrats. And there is plenty to learn from the smart “People Before Politics” campaign that Revis ran—especially his blunt defense of labor rights. Referring to anti-union legislation recently enacted by Missouri’s right-wing Republicans, Revis said, “Right-to-Work is a 60-year old bad idea, pushed by big corporations to lower wages. When it was passed by the Missouri General Assembly, I felt the call to take action and run for office. This constant assault on the rights of working men and women is funded by just a few multi-millionaires who buy influence with elected officials.”
However, this Democratic pickup in Missouri represents the 35th flip of a statehouse seat from red to blue since Donald Trump assumed the presidency. In other words, as the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee notes, this is part of a striking trend in American electoral politics. Just last month, Wisconsin Democrat Patty Schachtner won a “safe” Republican State Senate seat with a 37-point swing from the previous legislative election. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker described the result as “a wake-up call for Republicans in Wisconsin.”
Actually, this pattern of Democratic wins in off-year elections and special elections of traditionally Republican legislative seats is a wake-up call for Democrats in Wisconsin, Missouri, and states across the country. “We just picked up a legislative district in Missouri with a 31 point swing,” tweeted savvy Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz, who started in politics as a Democratic state legislator and knows whereof he speaks. “THERE ARE NO SAFE SEATS. Fight everywhere. Run everywhere.”
“It all matters,” said Schatz, “and it’s all winnable!”