Races of the Week:Federer vs. Carnahan

“Bill Federer, you’re nuts!” To the best of my knowledge, no one actually said those words to Federer–lawyer, author, small businessman from St. Louis, and two-time Republican nominee against House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D.-Mo.), But certainly they have been thought of by many, because f someone makes two runs against the Show-Me State Democrat in the highest-elected position since Harry Truman and then says, “I’ll run again,” there will be many in the state who question his sanity.

But there are some facts that indicate Federer is crazy like a fox. As the Almanac of American Politics put it, “the 3rd District has been trending Republican and Gephardt, despite spending millions of dollars every campaign year, has not topped 60% since 1992.” In 1998, spending only $196,000, Federer held Gephardt to a 56%-to-42% victory . Two years later, the results were very similar (58% to 40%).

And now Gephardt is leaving. The 28-year-congressman chose to go “double-or-nothing” on a presidential bid and came up with nothing. The last time the 3rd District was open, then-St. Louis Alderman Gephardt won a hard-fought primary and then a spirited general election campaign against former City Council President Joe Badaraco, who was well-known from past races for mayor and lieutenant governor. In the end, Gephardt won but that was “the old Gephardt”–a Democrat who was pro-life, pro-2nd Amendment, and pro-tax cut. He would even vote for Ronald Reagan’s tax and budget cuts in 1981 before he got national ambitions and changed on almost every “red meat” issue.

Now the Democratic nominee in the district is cut from the same cloth as that “new Gephardt:” He is State Rep. Russ Carnahan, son of the late Gov. Mel Carnahan (D.-Mo.) and former Sen. Jean Carnahan (D.-Mo.). In a ten-candidate field, Carnahan came out on top with 23% of the vote, his triumph almost surely made possible because he had one of the best-known Democratic names in Missouri. (Although one wonders how many primary voters knew that Carnahan had already tried to run for the House from the “Boot heel” part of the state, where his family is from, and had lost badly 14 years earlier.)

In this race, the 45-year-old Carnahan’s TV spots note that he “is the only Democrat endorsed by Planned Parenthood for his strong pro-choice record.” This puts him at odds with the tough new Roman Catholic spiritual leader of St. Louis, Archbishop Raymond Burke, who has said that Catholics who support abortion “have committed a grave sin in the eyes of the church, and should confess and do penance before receiving Communion.” (St. Louis Post Dispatch, June 26, 2004.)

Carnahan also handed out brochures at the Gay Pride Parade in June of this year, proclaiming himself “a supporter of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered rights” and boasting that I was one of the few “to oppose Missouri House Joint Resolution 47, which put the constitutional ban on same-sex marriages on the ballot.” In so doing, he placed himself at odds with 72.5% of 3rd District Missourians, who voted August 3 to maintain marriage as between one man and one woman.

To no one’s surprise, Carnahan crowed during the primary that he was “the only Democrat who stood up to the gun lobby and voted against the conceal and carry law.” Again, the Democratic nominee was out of the mainstream in his state. The override of the governor’s veto of conceal-and-carry easily passed both houses of the legislature.

As in 1976, the Republican nominee is someone who is known districtwide because of past unsuccessful races–Bill Federer. After those campaigns, his conservative views are also well known: strongly pro-life, pro-marriage, and pro-2nd Amendment. The difference in the last two races in which the 3rd District has been open is that Dick Gephardt was able to win in ’76 because he was “the old Gephardt” and Russ Carnahan may lose in ’04 because he is “the new Gephardt”–and because many conservatives around the country will realize that Bill Federer’s campaign is a cause and a man whose time has come.