Pollster has eyes ‘wide open’ on Hartmann candidacy

By Don Corrigan

Incumbency is almost insurmountable. That’s a truism in America and Missouri, according to Ken Warren, a political science professor at St. Louis University with decades of expertise on polling, democracy and politics.

He’s not optimistic about Ray Hartmann’s chances in his quest to unseat U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin. Pollster Warren has been a frequent guest on Hartmann’s KTRS radio show and counts him as a friend.

“Beating an incumbent is very difficult,” said Warren. “On average, 93% of incumbents win reelection. Sometimes that percentage is even higher. I think Hartmann thinks he has a shot because she has been “a silent, missing representative.”

Warren said Wagner has been a risk-adverse politician in her six terms in office. He said her “rose garden” strategy has worked so far. She has avoided controversy and visibility.

“Wagner will frustrate Hartmann by ignoring him, just as she has done to other challengers,” noted Warren. “It demeans a challenger to ignore them.  It implies the challenger is not worthy of their attention.

“Incumbents most often ignore their challengers because they do not want to raise their name recognition and give them credibility as a serious candidate,” Warren explained.

Hartmann also faces an uphill battle because Wagner’s district is justifiably rated as a safe district. Not as safe as some are, but pretty safe with many more Republicans than Democrats.

“However, you cannot predict with absolute certainty election results,” said Warren. “You do not know what may develop. Wagner’s district is the most vulnerable one in the state. All other districts are safer for the incumbent.”

Warren said Hartmann does have two advantages previous Democrats have not had in their failed campaigns against Wagner. He has name recognition and is a familiar face on television. He also has plenty of experience talking politics.

“Hartmann has name recognition, but maybe not as much as he thinks,” said Warren. “He has been on Public TV a long time, but this venue has a limited following.

“As a pollster, I can tell you that if I asked: ‘Do you know who Ray Hartmann is?’ – a significant percentage would say, ‘No.’ Wagner probably has better name recognition, but polls show about a third of voters can’t name their own U.S. Representative.”

Warren objected to those who say Hartmann is “going to the dark side,” or sullying his credentials as a journalist in getting into the muck and mire of political jousting.

“I don’t see any significant transition from his journalistic past with his political future,” said Warren. “How can he lose any objective credentials when he’s been much more of an opinion columnist than a reporter? His pieces for RFT, Raw Story and more are opinion pieces.”

“But I would add that he will not become the newest member of ‘the squad’ in Congress if he gets elected. He is not that liberal. In fact, some of his positions are very moderate on many issues, as he has expressed on TV’s Donnybrook.”

If Hartmann suffers the same fate as other Democratic challengers on Nov. 5 in his attempt to unseat Wagner, Warren said he believes he will likely return to journalism in some fashion.

“Journalism is in his blood. He writes good columns, devoting a lot of research to them. But print journalism is like the horse and buggy,” said Warren. “Good-paying jobs are evaporating and AI poses threats to all journalists.

Ray is getting old. I’m not sure he would reenter journalism as a career,” observed Warren. “Some of the media outlets he’s written for have gone belly up. But he will likely dabble in journalism for the rest of his life.”

Of course, if Hartmann manages the “impossible” in defeating incumbent Wagner, the past publisher of the Riverfront Times will join one of the most represented careers in the U.S. Congress after lawyers: that would be journalists.

Don Corrigan is former editor of the Webster-Kirkwood Times and emeritus professor at Webster College.

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