What does it say when a dozen students in Kansas City’s Lincoln College Preparatory Academy interrupt a speech by Gov. Jay Nixon to protest events in far eastern Missouri?
Maybe a lot of things. But one thing it says is that the governor — and, by extension, his party — have picked up some political baggage when it comes to the police shooting in Ferguson.
As Nixon and all Missourians await a grand jury decision on whether to indict Officer Darren Wilson, there’s growing unease among some Democrats about what this means for the party’s future.
It may mean a lot. Or, others say, it may not be a big deal at all.
“Democrats … are concerned about losing the support of African-American voters in relatively important numbers for a relatively long period of time,” said Dave Robertson, a political scientist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
Here in western Missouri, we get that Ferguson is a big deal. What we may not fully grasp is just how all-encompassing this controversy is in the St. Louis area, which happens to be the most valuable Democratic Party turf in the state.
The fear, most specifically, is what happens if more violence erupts in such a way as to leave lasting scars in that part of the state. Will Democrats, and African-Americans specifically, take a look at Nixon and his party, who rule much of the St. Louis area, and question their continued allegiance?
Subtract just a portion of Democratic support from St. Louis County, home to Ferguson and the greatest number of Democratic votes in the state, and the party’s ability to win statewide starts sinking.
Democratic leaders are consumed with all things Ferguson, even as critics continue to ride Nixon for what they describe as a slow, dithering response that hasn’t connected with residents there.
This week, for instance, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill told reporters that she had a “full and complete discussion” about Ferguson with President Barack Obama. She said she meets so often with community leaders and protesters that she sometimes feels like she’s engaged in shuttle diplomacy.
Some Democrats point to this month’s St. Louis County executive’s race as evidence that ties to key figures in the Ferguson crisis can cost Democrats votes. Others read the results differently.
One party strategist pointed to the upside. In a strange way, he said, the governor has done his party a favor. He’s messed up the crisis so badly that “there’s no more blame to go around.”