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Cori Bush wants to be the next progressive to upset a sitting congressman. Today’s her shot.

Missouri voters go to the polls Tuesday, as a generational fight is brewing in St. Louis.

TheWrap’s Power Women Summit 2019
Cori Bush (L) and Sophia Bush speak onstage during “Live Podcast: The New Face of Politics” at TheWrap’s Power Women Summit 2019 at Fairmont Miramar Hotel on October 24, 2019, in Santa Monica, California.
Amy Sussman/Getty Images
Ian Millhiser is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he focuses on the Supreme Court, the Constitution, and the decline of liberal democracy in the United States. He received a JD from Duke University and is the author of two books on the Supreme Court.

Missouri voters go to the polls Tuesday to choose a wide range of Democratic and Republican candidates, including gubernatorial candidates for both parties.

One of the most closely watched races is a rematch between Rep. William Lacy Clay, the long-serving Democratic representative of Missouri’s First Congressional District and the scion of a St. Louis political dynasty, and Cori Bush, a nurse who unsuccessfully challenged Clay in the 2018 Democratic primary.

At first glance, Bush resembles candidates such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) or Democratic congressional candidate Jamaal Bowman, who defeated veteran Democratic congressmen and who ran as unabashed progressives. Bush is two decades younger than the 64-year-old Clay, and she seeks a seat that a single family has held for more than half a century.

Lacy Clay entered Congress in 2001, succeeding his father Bill Clay, who was first elected to the House in 1968. The elder Clay is one of the founders of the Congressional Black Caucus.

But unlike several other highly watched Democratic primaries over the last two years, the race between Clay and Bush is perhaps more of a generational dispute than a battle over ideology. Clay describes himself as “one of the more progressive members of Congress since my first day.” He supports Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. He is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and he received their endorsement in his race against Bush.

When I asked Clay’s campaign what they view as the primary policy differences between the incumbent Congress member and Bush, they sent me a lengthy statement from Clay touting his endorsements from groups such as Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club, Equality PAC (a pro-LGBTQ group associated with the Congressional LGBTQ Equality Caucus), and the Congressional Black Caucus.

Clay touts himself as “the only candidate in this race who has helped 22 million Americans gain healthcare coverage and helped double the federal investment in community-based health centers,” and as “the only candidate in this race who has stood up to the NRA and authored landmark legislation to give local governments the power to enact their own gun regulations.”

Bush, meanwhile, organized protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after a police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, and was an outspoken supporter of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) during the senator’s 2016 presidential bid. She was endorsed by Bowman, the New York candidate who recently unseated Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY). Ocasio-Cortez campaigned for Bush in 2018.

Though Bush’s campaign does not deny that Clay supports many progressive priorities, its critique of him echoes the views of many Sanders supporters who viewed the Vermont senator’s opponents as latecomers to leftist causes. “We saw in the presidential primary the limitations of Democrats” for whom it is “easy and safe to co-sponsor a bill,” said Keenan Korth, a spokesperson for the Bush campaign.

Policy aside, Korth also touts Bush as the “protest-to-politics candidate” in the race. Bush is “not going to come to Congress and then stop attending these protests until we finally address this pandemic of police brutality.”

The 2018 race did not end well for Bush, with Clay defeating Bush by nearly 20 points. Like Clay, Bush is Black, but as St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum notes, “Bush prevailed in a number of either majority white or integrated areas of the 1st District in 2018,” but Clay “dominated in a number of Black city wards and county townships.”

Now, however, Bush has the experience of her 2018 race under her belt, as well as the greater name recognition that comes from having challenged Clay before. Bush was also featured in Knock Down the House, a Netflix documentary highlighting left challengers to incumbent Democrats.

She remains the underdog, but so were Ocasio-Cortez and Bowman.

Other Missouri races to watch

Incumbent Gov. Mike Parson (R) rose to power under the worst possible circumstances: His predecessor Eric Greitens (R) resigned due to allegations that he coerced a woman into performing oral sex on him and then threatened her to keep her quiet. Parson was lieutenant governor when Greitens left office, putting him next in line for the state’s top job.

Parson now hopes to be elected to his first full term in his current job. He faces three primary challengers, including state Rep. Jim Neely (R).

Meanwhile, five candidates hope to receive the Democratic nomination for the governor’s race, but state auditor Nicole Galloway is likely to prevail. One local news report said that Galloway is “considered the runaway favorite to face Mike Parson” in November.

Polls, meanwhile, show Parson as likely — but hardly certain — to prevail over Galloway in this increasingly red state. The Real Clear Politics polling average on this race shows Parson leading Galloway by just over six points.

One other underdog worth keeping an eye on is Wick Thomas, a candidate in the state house’s 19th District. That race pits Thomas, a self-described “transgender, non-conforming candidate,” against incumbent state Rep. Ingrid Burnett (D). If elected, Thomas could become one of a handful of openly transgender candidates elected to a state legislature.

Thomas combines a kind of shock-your-parents vibe with a strikingly wholesome professional life. They lead a punk band named Wick and the Tricks, but they also worked as a youth librarian for the Kansas City Public Library. In 2015, after Gov. Jay Nixon (D) cut library spending, Thomas led a group of teens to the governor’s office to protest — where they were eventually escorted out by state troopers.

Thomas was also named the “Best Activist in Missouri” in 2008 by The Pitch, a Kansas City alternative newspaper, for their work with teenagers and at-risk youth.

Finally, Missouri voters will decide whether to make their state the 38th to expand Medicaid under Obamacare — something the state’s Republican leaders have resisted. About 230,000 people could gain health coverage if the voters support Medicaid expansion.

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