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Activist Cori Bush Ousts Rep. William Lacy Clay Jr. In Missouri Primary Upset


Results from yesterday's primaries have some members of the GOP breathing a sigh of relief while Democrats are getting a different surprise. In Kansas, Republican Kris Kobach's bid for a Senate seat has ended. Kobach was a polarizing political figure and a close ally of President Trump. Instead, the state's Republicans backed the party's preferred candidate, Rep. Roger Marshall.

But the big upset really comes out of Missouri and for the Democrats. That's where the AP projects longtime Democratic Congressman William Lacy Clay as losing to progressive activist Cori Bush.

Jason Rosenbaum of St. Louis Public Radio has been following this race and joins me now. Hi, Jason.

JASON ROSENBAUM, BYLINE: Hi. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Yeah, thanks for being here. So just explain why this particular election and the result is such a big deal.

ROSENBAUM: I think that - and this is going to sound like hyperbole - this is one of the most significant moments in the history of St. Louis politics. Lacy Clay and his father, Bill Clay, were in power and in Congress for 52 years. And for especially progressive activists that are linked to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, this is a watershed victory of having someone like Cori Bush being able to defeat such an entrenched and powerful political dynasty. And it happened because she ran a disciplined campaign that was well-funded, and she also had support from high level progressive political figures like Jamaal Bowman, the congressman-elect from New York, as well as a lot of other people that are linked to Bernie Sanders as well.

MARTIN: So she had support from other high-profile progressives. What do we know about her personally? I mean, what can you tell us about her?

ROSENBAUM: Cori Bush is a single mother. She is a nurse. She is the daughter of a longtime municipal official in north St. Louis County. And she also is - she also was active in the protests after the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. And a lot of these different things in her life experience kind of was weaved into her victory speech on Tuesday night, where she not only talked about herself and talked about her working-class upbringing but also talked about how the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic decline in St. Louis had affected, possibly, the outcome in this race. This is a clip from her victory speech.


CORI BUSH: As we face down unprecedented crises from COVID-19 to police brutality to out-of-control climate change and we've decided how to move forward, well, tonight Missouri's 1st has decided that an incremental approach isn't going to work any longer.


ROSENBAUM: And from that speech, there were a number of people that were part of the progressive movement in St. Louis. And she did - she didn't have the establishment support that Clay had, but she did have a lot of support from people that were linked to Bernie Sanders in St. Louis.

MARTIN: Just briefly, Jason, what's her election going to mean for the people of Missouri? What policy changes could come?

ROSENBAUM: Well, it's going to mean that you're going to have somebody who's going to be supporting things like "Medicare for All" and the Green New Deal very vocally. But you're also going to have somebody who was on the streets of Ferguson, that knows what it was like to protest - in the halls of Congress. I think out of anything tonight, that is the biggest and most significant aspect of this entire story.

MARTIN: Jason Rosenbaum of St. Louis Public Radio, thank you.

ROSENBAUM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Since entering the world of professional journalism in 2006, Jason Rosenbaum dove head first into the world of politics, policy and even rock and roll music. A graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, Rosenbaum spent more than four years in the Missouri State Capitol writing for the Columbia Daily Tribune, Missouri Lawyers Media and the St. Louis Beacon. Since moving to St. Louis in 2010, Rosenbaum's work appeared in Missouri Lawyers Media, the St. Louis Business Journal and the Riverfront Times' music section. He also served on staff at the St. Louis Beacon as a politics reporter. Rosenbaum lives in Richmond Heights with with his wife Lauren and their two sons.