National political analysis sees tightening congressional races for GOP Reps. Wagner, Bost

U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, is still favored to win re-election this year, but may have less of a lock than previously thought against potential Democratic challenger Cort VanOstran.

And in Illinois, U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, whose district reaches into the Metro East, is now in a toss-up race against the likely Democratic nominee, St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly.

Those two pronouncements Thursday from the national Cook Political Report — on the heels of Tuesday’s shocking Democratic win in a Missouri House district in Wagner’s area — have Democrats here sounding giddy and Republicans sounding sober.

The new analysis “just means the race has the potential to become competitive,” Missouri Republican Party Executive Director Sam Cooper said in a statement. “I’m not worried about that in Congresswoman Wagner’s district. She has been a stalwart for the (district) since she was elected.”

Bost spokesman George O’Connor, also in a statement, said of the latest analysis: “That’s not news.”

“Based simply on historical trends, we know that this will be a competitive race — as it will be in battleground districts across the country,” he wrote. “… We are confident in our base of support and in having the resources we need to get our message out.”

Cook, a nonpartisan analytical site which both parties watch for pre-election trends, says the two St. Louis-area congressional districts are among 21 GOP House seats nationwide that have moved toward the Democrats heading into this election year, based on factors like fundraising and local polling.

“Just when you think the political environment has gotten bad enough for Republicans, it gets worse,” the report’s author, Cook House Editor David Wasserman, said in an interview.

Wasserman said a big factor in shifting Republican prospects around the country is “the extent to which Democratic challengers have outraised Republican incumbents.”

That’s a somewhat unusual situation that both Wagner and Bost were in during the most recent quarter of fundraising, according to campaign reports.

Wagner’s 2nd Congressional District encompasses parts of St. Louis, St. Charles and Jefferson counties. Thursday’s Cook report moves the district from its previous ranking of “Strong Republican” — the most secure ranking for GOP incumbents under Cook’s system — to the weaker “Likely Republican.”

The rankings below that are “Leans Republican” and “Toss-up,” and then into various levels of Democratic advantage.

Cook’s assessment noted that when Wagner decided to skip a Senate run this year and instead seek re-election to the House, “most considered her a lock.”

But VanOstran, an attorney and one of several Democrats vying for the party nomination to challenge Wagner, “surprised some” by raising more than Wagner in the third and fourth quarters of 2017, the report continues.

“Wagner will have access to all the money she needs,” the report notes, with her $3.2 million on hand going into 2018. But it also notes that President Donald Trump didn’t do as well in her district in 2016 as he did in other Missouri suburban districts.

The analysis predicts that Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., may need to carry the 2nd District to win re-election this year, meaning she might end up putting major money into it to bring out Democrats, which would hurt Wagner.

Wasserman, the Cook editor, said his analysis did take into account Tuesday’s surprise victory by Democrat Mike Revis in a special election for the 97th District Missouri House, which overlaps part of Wagner’s district and was expected to go heavily Republican.

He called that victory “an extreme case” due to low turnout, but added: “This is a district that only voted for Trump by 10 points. Considering how energized Democrats are, you have to take that into account.”

 Wagner spokesman Brecht Mulvihill pointed to Wagner’s “strong grass-roots support and a considerable cash-on-hand advantage.”

In a statement, VanOstran’s campaign claimed “unprecedented grass-roots enthusiasm every single day” and “rooms packed with concerned voters from Chesterfield to Oakville every night.”

Challenging VanOstran for the Democratic nomination in Missouri’s Aug. 7 primaries are Army veteran Mark Osmack, St. Louis elected school board member Bill Haas and political science professor John Messmer. All are far behind in fundraising.

Bost’s 12th Congressional District takes in a big swath of Illinois’ southwestern region, including St. Clair County and parts of Madison County. The Cook report previously had the two-term Republican in a “Leans Republican” seat, but now has it as a toss-up.

Recent campaign disclosure reports showed Kelly brought in about $315,000 in the fourth quarter of 2017, to Bost’s roughly $248,000.

Unlike Wagner, Bost isn’t sitting on a massive funding advantage from previously raised dollars. Kelly’s most recent campaign report showed him going into 2018 with $520,523 on hand, to Bost’s $686,012.

The Cook report noted that Trump won the district by 15 points in 2016, and that Bost has been “consistently underestimated” in the past. But it also said Kelly may be Democrats’ “most prized recruit of the 2018 cycle” because of his military and prosecutorial background.

“Republicans … (will) have a hard time painting Kelly as a liberal. This is a top-tier Democratic opportunity,” states the report.

“By declaring our race a toss-up, the Cook Report is simply saying what all of us in the Kelly Coalition already know,” Kelly campaign manager Sam Barrett said in a statement.

Kelly is being challenged in Illinois’ March 20 Democratic primary by David Bequette and Pat McMahan, neither of whom had raised significant funding as of the end of December.

By Kevin McDermott, February 8, 2018


In The NewsChris Claflin