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Missouri Democrats won their largest share of House seats in a decade. What changed?

 The Missouri House of Representatives on the first day of the legislative session this past January at the Capitol in Jefferson City.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
The Missouri House of Representatives on the first day of the legislative session this past January at the Capitol in Jefferson City.

While Republicans will still hold a supermajority in the chamber, House Democrats were able to gain three seats, giving them their largest numbers in years.

A new Missouri House district map is just one possible reason why House Democrats will have three more lawmakers in the upcoming session.

The new map, drawn by a bipartisan commission earlier in the year, created a more competitive electoral map, with more seats up for grabs for Democrats in areas including Kansas City, Columbia and Springfield.

Anita Manion, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said Democrats won 13 of the 20 competitive seats this past election.

“The fact that of the competitive seats, they won the majority in a midterm election year, I think that's a very strong showing for them,” Manion said.

Even though House Republicans still hold a supermajority, Manion said this will be House Democrats’ highest count since 2012, with 52 seats compared to Republicans’ 111, according to unofficial results from the Secretary of State.

The gains come during a year where Republicans underperformed nationwide, though in Missouri both statewide position elections had Republican victors, including U.S. Sen.-elect Eric Schmitt.

Rep. Ashley Aune, D-Kansas City, said one area that benefited from the new map was Boone County.

“I think the thing that helped us most there was that I believe that the previous state House map around Columbia seems pretty gerrymandered,” Aune said.

However, Aune said other races, including her own, got more competitive with the redrawing. In her case, the conversations she had with potential voters had her confident she would win in November.

“Democrats and Republicans are looking at Democratic candidates and understanding that their values and beliefs and priorities actually do align with those of the Democratic Party,” Aune said.

Rep. Kurtis Gregory, R-Marshall, agrees that the map played a part in some of GOP candidates losing this election cycle.

“We were banking hard, putting a lot of money against some of their candidates, but it didn't turn out the way we wanted it to on the Republican side,” Gregory said.

However, the map isn’t necessarily the only reason Democrats saw gains in the House. Manion also credits the candidates who ran, as well as their campaigning, which included more in-person efforts compared to 2020, which was more digital because of the pandemic.

“They were doing much fewer in-person events, door-to-door canvassing and those sort of on-the-ground campaign tactics that the Republicans continued on with. But we saw this year, Democrats coming out in full force with their grassroots efforts. And I think that helped,” Manion said.

Other things that may have helped Democrats this cycle include the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and the appearance on the ballot of Amendment 3, which expanded Missouri’s marijuana program to include recreational use.

Rep. Emily Weber, D-Kansas City, said abortion was the biggest issue helping Democrats that was not related to the new map. Missouri was the first state in the country to enact an abortion ban after the Supreme Court decision.

“Every time we came to the door, it was about reproductive health care. They were afraid about their birth control. They were afraid about ectopic pregnancies, because that came up in the House too,” Weber said.

Gregory said that the Supreme Court decision likely weighed on some people, but that Republicans benefited from the ruling happening earlier in the year.

“If the Dobbs decision would have come down in September, October, I think it could have been a lot worse of a night for us, potentially," Gregory said.

Weber and Gregory also said they believed Amendment 3 being on the ballot could have affected the candidate elections, since that had likely more Democratic support than Republican.

As far as how this will impact the work of lawmakers this session, Gregory said legislators largely agree on most bills passed. For the ones that normally come down to party lines, he still expects those to be introduced.

Weber said House Democrats are not finished.

“We picked up three seats, yes. But that technically on that map, there's eight seats that can be gained and [the] HCCC [House Democratic Campaign Committee] is not going to quit working,” Weber said.

Copyright 2022 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Sarah Kellogg is St. Louis Public Radio’s Statehouse and Politics Reporter, taking on the position in August 2021. Sarah is from the St. Louis area and even served as a newsroom intern for St. Louis Public Radio back in 2015.
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