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Monday, April 19, 2021

Aided by a phone call from a friend, a Missouri Senate candidate draws strength from his family

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Like many Democrats, Chris Adams saw a lot of the stories about Claire McCaskill’s ice cream social in the Missouri Derby, a weekend of political and social camaraderie in St. Louis. When he arrived there Saturday to meet family members he missed out on, his frustration was obvious.

After boarding a flight to Austin to tour a company’s biotech research center, Mr. Adams instead headed to the airport. When he got there, he was trapped there for nearly 15 hours as Harvey Steinbuch, the executive director of the Southwest Airlines regional affiliate, refused to let him out of the terminal without a ticket and a barcode that the airline had yet to issue to customers.

“I was on the phone with somebody who told me this is not normal and that I needed to let my representatives know,” Mr. Adams said. “I thought the best thing to do is not travel out of town and do it over the weekend and see if I could find some sort of solution here locally.”

To show how things could have been different, Mr. Adams has arranged to meet with state legislators and Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson. And he is asking voters to call or email state representatives and ask that they help out, he said.

During the 2002 midterm election, pollsters for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee held a meeting with Ms. McCaskill’s campaign staff at a restaurant in St. Louis. Some of the Democratic consultants suggested that the senator should hold a series of casual meetings over the weekend to build relationships with the community and give voters the chance to get to know her, said Hilary Rosen, a consultant with America Rising, the Republican opposition research firm.

“They didn’t want to do damage control,” Ms. Rosen said. “They didn’t want to be the campaign that wrote a bunch of negative mailings.”

Ms. Rosen went on to say, “I think the language that we would use is, the money and time spent on these get-togethers is really wasted.”

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Ms. Rosen also believes that any event focused solely on a candidate would end up being less effective. “That’s really unfair, but in a lot of these small towns and rural communities, it doesn’t mean much,” she said.

Sam Sessoms, a communications consultant and longtime Missouri Democratic operative, said, “There’s no way that I think [Ms. McCaskill] could go to the community and say, ‘I’m going to hold these meetings.’”

The community meetings may have been a useful learning experience for this close election, but they are not part of the kind of campaigns that are preparing for the general election.

As a result, Democrats have struggled to play the widespread community organizer they believe that Americans would like to see.

When Mr. Adams, a 27-year-old with a business degree from Arizona State University, returned to Missouri, he learned that his relatives had been required to register to vote for the first time this election cycle. That meant seeking a candidate who knew the history and culture of his family, for whom 2016 was, by his family’s admission, the only election they ever voted.

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