Missouri Democratic Party Leader Looks To Rebuild

Jul 7, 2017

Stephen Webber, 34, was elected chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party after losing a state senate race in November.
Credit Luke X. Martin / KCUR 89.3

Democrats across the country suffered bruising electoral defeats in November 2016. Now, Missouri Democrats are looking to the 2018 elections and trying to rebuild.

Stephen Webber, who has chaired the Missouri Democratic Party since last year, is coming up with a plan he thinks could combat the issues that plagued his party last time around. Webber was elected to lead after losing a narrow fall race for Missouri Senate District 19 to Republican Caleb Rowden. 

Steve Kraske, host of KCUR's Up To Datespoke with Webber on Friday about his strategy to revive Missouri's Democratic candidates.

Interview highlights:

On strategy for the upcoming elections:

"So we put together a plan and we're focusing the Missouri Democratic Party. We're focusing on three things: recruiting and training candidates for the state legislature; communicating the Democratic message; and rebuilding Democratic clubs — rural clubs, young Democrats, college Democrats — Democratic organizations like that across the state. Those are the three things we're going to do to be successful as a state party."

On how to get rural Missouri back in the blue:

"You need to have candidates that connect and can understand people in rural communities. And one of the things we are very fortunate to have, we went through a list of things we've lost, and there's plenty of those. But, at the top of our ticket, Sen. Claire McCaskill is someone who's got a unique ability to connect with Missourians from all over the state, that understands the state, that has won in years like 2002 [in her re-election for state auditor], that were difficult years. 

"But, we have to show up in those places. We have to compete everywhere. We have to organize. We have to show that we care about every single community, whether it's an urban community, whether it's a rural community. We have to compete for every single vote."

On bringing in pro-life Democrats:

"We've talked about that under the idea of reaching out, in particularly rural communities. I mean, that's been an issue in the Missouri Democratic Party literally since the 1970s. 

"When I came into the legislature, there were a lot of rural Democrats. Some of them, like Rebecca McClanahan, were pro-choice and some, like Rachel Bringer, had very strongly-held convictions on being pro-life. The party was better having Democrats throughout northeast Missouri, and there's room for people as long as they work hard, and they're willing to stand in front of a room and say with conviction why they believe."

On a lack of competition for every seat:

"So there's two issues there. The first issue is that, because of the way the lines are drawn, [districts] become so partisan that both sides are leaving a lot of seats uncontested. And that's a problem for democracy across the board, throughout Missouri and around the whole country. 

"The second issue is why in 2006, out of 163 House seats, there were 140 Democrats that ran. Then last cycle, out of 163 House seats, there were 97 [candidates]. That's an issue that the Democratic Party needs to fix. So when I talked about our plan ... our number one priority, is recruiting and training candidates. That is the single most important job the Missouri Democratic Party has over the next year until filing closes."

Listen to Steve Kraske's entire conversation with Stephen Webber here.

Catherine Wheeler is an intern for KCUR 89.3.