The Democrat who thinks he can win back Missouri with populism

The first is a study in contrasts – Kunce’s disciplined anti-corporate message versus Busch Valentine’s genial generalities. After dodging the debates, Busch Valentine gave occasional television interviews which offered an adventurous quality can-she-pass-the-next-answer. Last Monday, speaking with KMOX in St. Louis, she originally answered to a question about laws prohibiting schools from discussing gender identity in the early years by denouncing “critical race theory”, which is both a right-wing talking point and a totally alien topic at the question. As Jeff Smith, a St. Louis-based Democratic lobbyist, put it, referring to another stumbling rookie candidate, “It’s Herschel Walker with more money and less concussion.”

Democratic hopes in November were initially buoyed by disgraced and sex-scandal-scared former governor Eric Greitens, leading GOP polls for the seat of incumbent Sen. Roy Blunt. But polls and omens suggest Greitens is fading fast, with right-wing state Attorney General Eric Schmidt now the favorite to win the GOP primary. Schmidt has his own vulnerabilities, such as his strong advocacy for a 2011 plan to make St. Louis a hub for trade with China. “If Missouri was a five-point state, Schmidt would be vulnerable,” said Stephen Webber, former chairman of the state’s Democratic Party, who is now political director of Missouri’s AFL-CIO. “But not in a 17-point race.”

Even with daunting odds against Republicans, Kunce would be an intriguing Senate contender, assuming he wins the primary. What he is proposing is a different path for Democrats than moderates such as McCaskill and now Busch Valentine. “Kunce may be on a strategy that is paying dividends down the line,” said Daniel Ponder, professor of political science at Drury University. “It could signal a return to Democratic populism.”

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