Democrat Cort VanOstran Knocks On Doors Hoping To Flip MO-02
AFFTON, MO — Democratic candidate for Congress Cort VanOstran spent the weekend canvassing with hundreds of volunteers across Missouri's second district, which includes portions of St. Louis County, St. Charles County and Jefferson County. With the midterm election contest for the once solidly Republican seat in a statistical dead heat, he said he's expecting a nail-biter where every vote will count.
"I truly believe that this could be an election that is decided by the number of people right here in this room," 30-year-old VanOstran told about two dozen volunteers Sunday afternoon in Affton, Missouri. "Every single person that you talk to today could be the deciding vote."
At least one first-time canvasser, 32-year-old Bobby Myers, seems to have taken that message to heart. He first met VanOstran at a town hall in October and quickly saw something he liked in the candidate.
"I just gravitated to his campaign and I really liked his messaging," Myers said. "I've only ever worked one other campaign, so I'm kind of picky about who I show up for."
Myers said he votes in every election, and this one will be no different, though he believes the stakes are higher this time around.
That's a message VanOstran, who said he hopes to restore "decency and stability" to Washington, has seized on.
"We know what it felt like to wake up on a Wednesday morning a couple years ago," VanOstran said. "I'll just speak for myself, but I think many of you will agree with me. I knew that I probably could have done a little more to change the outcome of that election. I am so grateful that you all are here today so that we don't have to think that this Wednesday morning. We will know that we left it all on the field and did everything we could to try to get things back on track in this country."
And with that, VanOstran hit the streets, knocking on doors and asking residents for their votes as easily as he asked what high schools they attended.
A former attorney and educator, according to his campaign website, VanOstran has based his campaign around health care, education, campaign finance and gun reform. He has called for protections for preexisting conditions and a public health approach to the opioid crisis.
"I am running because of an experience that I had with health care," VanOstran told one woman on Langley Avenue. "I lost my mom to breast cancer a couple years ago. She had a plan at the end of her life through the [Affordable Care Act]. When I watched this Congress member try to kick 22 million people off their coverage, to make it impossible for people with preexisting conditions to get coverage, that's really why I decided I had to run."
The Congress member VanOstran is referring to is Rep. Ann Wagner, the Republican incumbent standing between him an a U.S. House seat. Wagner is running for her fourth term in Congress, and VanOstran is at least partially right about her voting record. In 2017, Wagner voted for a failed Republican bill that, while it would have required insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions, would also have let them charge exorbitant and unaffordable rates, according to Politifact. And like most House Republicans, she has voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act — known as Obamacare — dozens of times.
But health care isn't Wagner's focus. In fact, health care isn't mentioned at all on her issues page. Rather, her campaign has been based around so-called "culture war" issues: guns, abortion, immigration. She says she has made it her mission to "bring Missouri's values to Washington" and has emphasized protecting "the American people from ISIS and other radical Islamic terrorists in the Middle East," cutting taxes and federal spending, curbing illegal immigration and protecting the Second Amendment.
"As a lifelong Missouri resident, Ann understands what it means to fight for conservative family values," Wagner's campaign website reads. "Ann believes that all life is sacred and begins at conception. During her time in Congress, she has consistently led the way on pro-life issues and sought to give voice to the voiceless and protect the rights of all Missourians."
Wagner has sought to ban federal funding for Planned Parenthood and introduced a bill extending Constitutional protections to the unbornfrom the moment of fertilization, which would not only outlaw abortion but many forms of birth control, experts say. With a new conservative majority on the Supreme Court, that bill or others like it are likely to see Constitutional tests in the coming years.
The Associated Press reports Wagner has not held any town halls during her three terms in Congress, and did not show up to a League of Women Voters candidate forum in October. A spokesperson for her campaign accused the group of being biased against Republicans.
Despite recent momentum, VanOstran is still facing an uphill battle — and it's a steep hill. Donald Trump won the district in 2016 by more than 10 points and Wagner still had a $2 million war chest as of October 17. That's despite spending nearly a third more than the VanOstran campaign, which, at this point, has less than a quarter million dollars left in the bank.
Both Wagner and VanOstran agree that the race is essentially a local one and that it will be decided by local issues. But while Wagner is hoping a nationwide "blue wave" will pass her district by, VanOstran will need it to come roaring ashore if he has any hope of flipping the seat.
Still, if Republicans really are in danger among suburban women, as some pollsters and political pundits have argued, MO-02 seems prime political territory for Democrats. And as one of the only competitive House seats in the state, if Democrats are going to flip any districts in Missouri, it's likely going to be here.