Back when he was merely a gubernatorial contender, Gov. Jay Nixon reacted to then-Rep. Jeff Harris’ entry into the race for attorney general in fairly simple terms. He said in 2007 that the Columbia Democrat would make a “super attorney general.”
When Harris used that line in an ad in 2008, Nixon’s campaign put out a statement that he had not endorsed anybody in the competitive four-way Democratic primary. Harris ended up coming in third place, behind second-place finisher Margaret Donnelly and eventual victor Chris Koster.
The episode showcased how reluctant Nixon can be when choosing to endorse people engaged in competitive primaries. That’s why his decision to emphatically endorse Rep. Lacy Clay (D-St. Louis) over Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-St. Louis) is getting so much attention in local and national political publications.
Plenty of people have delivered theories behind the first-term governor’s decision: Some have pointed to Nixon’s longtime friendship with Clay, while others noted that the Jefferson County native wants to avoid any conflicts with the African-American community in St. Louis.
Others, such as Politico reporter Dave Catanese, surmised that Nixon threw out the endorsement to spite Carnahan. From a logical standpoint, it’s not likely at the moment that Russ Carnahan, who barely won re-election last year to a Democratic-leaning House seat, or Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, who lost decisively in 2010 in her bid for U.S. Senate, will present a serious threat to Nixon's future political ambitions.
But it should be noted that Carnahan has plenty of financial resources to be a competitive candidate, especially in a market that could require television and radio ads to get a message out. Yet in a primary where prominent officials could hold both emotional and organizational sway, it can’t hurt that Clay managed to snag some of the Democratic Party’s most established names.