Drawn out of district, Democrat drops out of suburban St. Louis congressional race
Ben Samuels says new map lines left him living outside 2nd District, facing increased GOP margin
Ben Samuels, former candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 2nd Congressional District (Campaign photo via Facebook).
Democrat Ben Samuels on Friday became the second Missouri congressional candidate in a strong position for their party’s nomination to abandon a campaign because of newly drawn district maps.
Samuels, the leading fundraiser in the 2nd District Democratic primary, announced he was quitting the race because his home is now within the 1st District.
“After months of dragging its feet, the Missouri General Assembly passed a new congressional map with no regard for fairness or representativeness,” Samuels said in a news release. “Instead, they drew a map designed to give Ann Wagner a ‘more secure’ district and to draw me out of it.”
Wagner, a Republican, has represented the 2nd District since 2013. Samuels had raised more than $1.1 million, and had almost $840,000 on hand by March 31. Of the two other candidates in the Democratic primary, state Rep. Tirsh Gunby, D-Ballwin, had raised $313,681 and Ray Reed had not reported any donations.
Gunby reacted to the withdrawal Friday morning with a news release stating she is confident she can defeat Wagner even with the extra Republican voters.
“The path is clearing up for Trish to take on and defeat Ann Wagner this November,” the release stated.
Wagner had $1.8 million on hand March 31.
Samuels joins state Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland, on the list of candidates who ended their campaigns after the district maps were finalized. Walsh was seeking the GOP nomination in the 4th District. The final map put her home and legislative constituents into the 3rd District.
When Samuels filed for office on Feb. 22, the Missouri Senate was already locked in a filibuster begun by a minority of Republican senators demanding changes to a House-passed map that would allow the GOP to win seven of the state’s eight districts.
Political professionals expected no change to the current partisan alignment of six Republicans and two Democrats under the original House map and none are expected under the final version now in effect.
Before the new map, the 2nd District included most of St. Louis County and portions of St. Charles and Jefferson counties. In the last two elections, Wagner had received less than 52% of the vote and, in 2018, only 49.5% of the vote in St. Louis County.
The new district lines shift the district to the west, with a larger portion of St. Charles County plus reliably Republican Franklin County and Warren County south of Interstate 70.
Every map debated by the legislature shifted his home into the 1st District, Samuels said. In some instances it was by less than a block, he said. But he believes the intent was clearly to draw him out of the race.
“The legislature intentionally drew maps not to be representative of the community, or to create representative and fair outcomes, but just to achieve a desired political outcome, making it significantly harder for a Democrat to win,” Samuels said in an interview. “It is a fundamentally different race.”
There may be a legal challenge to the map based on whether the districts are compact, but it would not succeed in time to alter the boundaries for this year’s elections, Samuels said.
Three lawsuits challenging the old map, two in Cole County Circuit Court and one in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Missouri, were filed when it appeared lawmakers would not be able to agree. The Cole County cases have been dismissed and the federal lawsuit is in the process of dismissal.
Samuels said he intends to make prorated refunds of his remaining campaign cash, and if any money remains he will use it to help elect Democrats in other races.
The party should work on appealing to rural voters, he said.
“We can’t have a shot at winning elections in a lot of the state,” he said, “if Democrats can’t communicate with people in rural areas.”
This story has been updated since it was initially published.
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