Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, locked in the fight of her political life against state attorney general Josh Hawley, raised eyebrows this week with an ad targeting rural voters by distancing her from “those crazy Democrats” in the state. The state’s elected Democrats have been unimpressed.
“I want to know who these ‘crazy Democrats’ are,” state senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal, who represents parts of North St. Louis, told THE WEEKLY STANDARD. “Is she talking about African Americans? Is she talking about the LGBT community? Is she talking about pro-choicers? Is she talking about the activists on the ground that have been responding to racial inequity? The question she needs to be asked and forced to answer is who are the crazy Democrats she’s talking about and relying on to vote for her in November. We deserve an answer.”
State Representative Courtney Curtis represents the St. Louis-adjacent city of Ferguson, where racial tensions flared following the August 2014 police shooting of African-American teenager Michael Brown. Curtis told TWS that the McCaskill ad was a “dog whistle.”
“It’s a message that’s coded, that’s reaching out to a certain kind of person and trying to play or cater to their worst fears or thoughts by saying ‘those crazy Democrats,’” Curtis said. “And the immediate question is who are you talking about, and then what are you doing to that person in trying to get this voter in this way or manner . . . It almost dehumanizes or devalues the person’s worth or contribution to the community.”
McCaskill has gone all-out to burnish her credentials as a moderate in the closing weeks of the election, as she faces a strong challenger in a state that broke strongly for President Trump two years ago. But these overtures have also exposed the state’s racial fault lines, even within the confines of her own party. Additionally, Curtis charged, they have led to a situation where McCaskill has attempted to make one pitch to her base in the cities and a different pitch to moderates in rural areas. (McCaskill’s campaign did not respond to TWS’s request for comment.)
“I think that shows that either one is desperate or that they are willing to do whatever it takes to win,“ Curtis said. ”And it ultimately means that sure, you can’t put them in a box, but you also can’t trust what they say, because what they say to one voter could be very different [from what they say] to another voter. And how do you understand where they are? Or how do you hold them accountable, when they say different things to the same question?”
According to Chappelle-Nadal and Curtis, the “crazy Democrats” ad was simply the latest example of the party’s white leadership making overtures to undecided rural voters at the expense of black voters in the cities.
“And yet many black voters will continue to support her,” Chappelle-Nadal said. “People get thrown under the bus, and all they can say is that the bus had some really nice tires.”
Chappelle-Nadal told TWS that many of her black constituents were appalled by the ad, but still planned to vote for McCaskill as the lesser of two evils.
“It’s like people hate her, but they hate her and are going to vote for her. But why do you have to vote for somebody who you hate? It just doesn’t make any sense,” Chappelle-Nadal said. “We shouldn’t have to force down vomit to vote for someone.”
“If you don’t talk about it, you don’t write about it, nobody reads or nobody hears about it, it’s just going to be swept under the rug,” she added. “All Claire wants is to win by any means necessary, and if that means stomping on the people who are her base, she’ll do it.”