When Missouri became a state in 1821, St. Charles Countians were able to vote in their first US and local elections. St. Charles County was a divided county during the Civil War. Most of the small farm German immigrants were against slavery and aligned with the Republicans. The large farm English/Americans from Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, who had slaves, aligned themselves with the Democratic Party.
By 1870 Republican rule in Missouri and St. Charles County had ended. For the next two decades a strong two party system continued, but the mostly Catholic Germans migrated towards the Democratic Party and its more populist platform during the first half of the 19th century. The Protestant German-Americans, and those of other ethnic lineages, voted mostly Republican and controlled St. Charles County until around the mid 1930’s.
Then the Great Depression of the 1930’s turned the tables on the Republicans and, as the rest of the nation went to the Democrats for solutions, so went the voters of St. Charles County. After the Depression, when people went back to work and businesses in St Charles County prospered during and after the war, many voters returned to the Republican Party.
By 1950 there was an influx of many new residents to St. Charles County of differing ethnic and income levels. The labor force found more employment within the county and a large percentage of those jobs were union. The political winds turned in the direction of the Democratic Party. In 1952 there were 3,200 Republican primary voters and 1,900 Democratic primary voters. By 1958 the local Republicans had imploded and they had only one office holder: an incumbent in the recorder of deeds office.
Republicans made a small resurgence locally in 1966, but the majority of elective offices were in the hands of the Democrats until the early 1980’s. After 22 years of Democratic preeminence locally, the election of Ronald Reagan was a turning point for the Republicans in St. Charles County. Slowly, they were able to take over elective offices that had previously been held by Democrats for many years.
The lowest point for St. Charles County Democratic numbers may possibly have been in the 2004 election when straight party voting showed 25,394 Democratic ballots to 43,254 Republican ballots. Only one countywide Democrat, longtime County Collector Barb Walker, was held over in office. Also elected to office in 2004 was Judge Ted House. He had been termed out of the legislature after 14 years in office.
In the countywide, state and federal elections since 2004, Democrats in St. Charles County have made many strides. The straight ticket voting is no longer used and we have been able to take advantage of that with some Republicans splitting their tickets and crossing over for a Democrat here or there. We increased the total number of elected Democrats from two to five. More significant is the trend in total number of Democratic votes on statewide and presidential offices.
In 2004, John Kerry received 40.9% and in 2008 Obama received 44.5% countywide. The numbers are even more stunning in the governor’s race of 2008. There was a Jay Nixon landslide in St. Charles County of 53.81% of the total votes as compared to the 42.4% Democrat Claire McCaskill received countywide in 2004. We should learn from history. It is clear that the Democratic Party was successful at turning the tide in 2008 on the national and state level.
As we have seen in the past, our party’s success in St. Charles County has ebbed and flowed with the rising and lowering tides of political winds going on around us at higher levels. 2004 was the turning point in St. Charles County and we see nothing but a brighter future for our party as we go forward into future election cycles.
Democrats in St. Charles County can bring back the trend in our favor. Our political predecessors a couple of generations before us were able to do it, but only with hard work and diligence. What is needed is a cohesive and cooperative Democratic operation with good candidates who will be true and loyal public servants.
We must not consider only today’s opportunities or dilemmas, but look to the future and understand that this is a long journey towards the Democratization of St. Charles County. No one individual can accomplish such a task. What is needed is the work of many eyes, ears, feet and hearts to carry the message of the Democratic Party forward and get honest, qualified and hardworking individuals to represent us here in our own county. It also means that we need to work on behalf of our president, senator, governor and other statewide Democrats so that they can spend more time making our government more efficient and effective and spend less time worrying about getting re-elected. The future of the Democratic Party in St. Charles County depends on you, the grassroots and heart of America.