“Gobsmacked” is one of those words you love because it so perfectly captures what it means: utterly astounded.
And it captures how I reacted to three political developments this week that had me yanking my jaw off the floor. Let’s run ‘em down.
First, Democrat Lauren Arthur surprised with the magnitude of her victory Tuesday in a north-of-the-river special state Senate election. She didn’t just win, which would have been significant enough. She won by 20 points.
No one saw this coming, and a win by that margin in a district Donald Trump carried in 2016 is triggering GOP shivers all over Missouri. It also attracted national attention.
Make no mistake: These were two well-funded candidates. Corlew is a well-respected lawmaker. The district may tilt Democratic, but it’s not dramatic. This was about as good a test to gauge the impact that President Trump and the scandals surrounding former Gov. Eric Greitens have had on Missouri voters as you’re going to find.
What happened? Republicans, with some justification, blame this debacle on Greitens, whose multiple legal dilemmas surely depressed GOP turnout. His foibles, combined with Trump’s performance, ginned up the Democratic base.
To his credit, Corlew called early for Greitens to resign. As commendable as that was, it also split the GOP base.
Democrats gleaned something else Tuesday: When they recruit good candidates, they can win.
Now, will the anti-Greitens sentiment linger until November? That’s unlikely, and much depends on Gov. Mike Parson’s performance during that span. So far, Republicans are liking what they see.
One final judgment: The over-the-top negative spots that Republicans ran against Arthur didn’t help.
But does that mean playing nice will win in 2018? We’re about to find out.
Colyer doubled down on his strategy of refusing to criticize his chief rival for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Asked three times to comment on Kobach’s intentionally provocative Shawnee parade appearance Saturday in a bright red Jeep next to what appeared to be a .50 caliber machine gun, Colyer demurred.
“I’m going to let Kris answer why he did what he did,” Colyer said.
I asked again. “If that’s how he wants to present himself, that’s his choice,” the governor said.
But, I said to him, lots of kids who are increasingly afraid of guns were at the parade. What about it? “I would never do that,” Colyer responded.
Bottom line: Colyer wants a conversation, not an argument.
Will this approach work? Colyer is gambling it will. It’s tough for anybody to go toe-to-toe with Kobach. Colyer may be wise to avoid that. Second, the thinking almost surely is Kobach will sink himself. No need to pile on. One February poll of Kansas Republicans showed Kobach with a 35 percent disapproval score compared to Colyer’s 14 percent.
This is an unorthodox approach, but Colyer is locked in.
Stunning moment No. 3: Parson said he’ll get behind the proposed gasoline tax going before Missouri voters in November. Parson, a Republican, did this on his second day in office and in an election year. In doing so, he signaled just how much of a difference the occupant of that office can have on policy.
Greitens never got behind anything that smacked of a tax bump to preserve his presidential aspirations. Parson wasted no time, and it will boost the badly-needed tax’s prospects considerably.