State Rep. Trish Gunby and gun-control activist Ray Reed are vying for the Democratic nomination in the 2nd Congressional District primary on Tuesday.
This spring’s redistricting process made the 2nd District more favorable to a Republican candidate, but Gunby and Reed both believe they still have a shot at beating the well-resourced GOP incumbent, Congresswoman Ann Wagner.
Gunby believes Wagner’s stances, especially on reproductive rights and investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection, could cost her the election.
“[Wagner] is aligning herself with the extremist portion of their party,” Gunby said, “and that is not the 2nd Congressional District.”
Gunby and Reed align on many issues, including enacting stricter regulations on firearms, codifying Roe v Wade, securing a living wage for workers and eliminating college debt.
Gunby, 61, says she has experience winning in a GOP-majority district and that gives her a leg up on Reed. She has been door-knocking since she announced her candidacy last August, which she said is what it will take to defeat Wagner.
Reed, 25, has worked for the Missouri Democratic Party and in former Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration. He says Gunby is the kind of candidate that Democrats have unsuccessfully run against Wagner in the past. The only way to win is with a movement behind the candidate, he said, something Reed believes he has with the national gun-control youth movement.
Both candidates are far behind Wagner in campaign fundraising, and the Democratic candidate who had raised the most money, Ben Samuels, had to drop out of the race after redistricting carved him out of the district.
But that also doesn’t worry the Democratic candidates, they said.
“Ann Wagner will have to spend all of her money to keep up with us,” Reed said, “because movement just beats money.”
The idea to join the race came after a group of his friends were talking about issues that they cared about, such as student loan forgiveness, universal health care and reproductive rights.
“I’m the only candidate at the federal level in the history of Missouri who has had to learn shooter drills before they even learned how to read,” Reed said. “It’s an entirely new perspective that we have the opportunity to bring to Congress.”
Reed would also be the first African American to represent Missouri’s 2nd District and the youngest person to serve in the 118th Congress.
Reed studied political science at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg and went to work for Nixon’s policy team after graduation where he assisted with bill reviews, clemency applications and board and commission appointments.
In 2018, Reed joined the Missouri Democratic Party’s staff to assist with organizing for House and Senate candidates. In that job he got the opportunity to work with Democrats across the state, including former Sen. Claire McCaskill.
As part of the gun-control movement, Reed joined national youth leader David Hogg at the U.S. Capitol a month ago to talk with House and Senate members about a response to the mass shooting in the Texas elementary.
“I was actually in Washington doing the job that Wagner should have already been doing,” Reed said, “which is a building consensus around common sense gun control in the wake of the Uvalde school shooting.”
Reed said he has an “army” of young volunteers across the country and locally to fuel his campaign, despite raising about a sixth of the campaign funds that Gunby has.
College student Tramaine Cooper from Brentwood said he had never thought much about politics until he heard Reed speak at his school.
“You just don’t see powerful people who even attempt to reach out to people my age,” Cooper said.
To Cooper, Reed represents a “greater moment.”
“This moment belongs to our generation,” Cooper said. “Ray is just the first and a larger wave is coming because through him, so many others now can see themselves in Congress or at least see it as something attainable.”
Gunby, who has been a state representative since 2019 and has lived in the Manchester area for 30 years, said she entered the race because she was tired of hearing from constituents how unresponsive Wagner’s office was to their concerns.
“I have not seen her in the district in 10 years,” she said. “She notably has not had town halls or public forums, and I’ve had eight since I’ve been a state rep. in three years.”
One of the first things Gunby did after deciding to run, she said, was to reach out to Democratic Sen. Jill Schupp, who narrowly lost to Wagner in 2020. And she asked Schupp, who is endorsing Gunby, what she would have done differently.
“We’re doing all the things that she suggested,” Gunby said. “She said, ‘Get started earlier.’ She announced in December, and we announced in August. She said, ‘Be more hard hitting at Ann,’ and I would say that we are.”
One major difference in their campaigns is that Schupp did not doorknock because her campaign took place during the first phase of the COVID-19 pandemic when vaccines weren’t available.
Gunby immediately started knocking on doors in August in the central corridor of the district, where she knew the new redistricting lines wouldn’t touch. Her team goes to both Republican and Democratic voters’ doors, and she hasn’t seen any literature from Wagner’s campaign on any porches.
Gunby said her conversations with moderate Republicans are particularly telling about where her district stands.
“He said, ‘Well, I’m actually a moderate Republican, but I think that classifies me as a Democrat now,’” said Gunby, recalling her conversation with a voter. “Really, those were his words. So the Republican Party has a problem.”
Gunby has laid out a progressive platform that includes strengthening voting, reproductive and workers’ rights.
Since Roe v. Wade was struck down, the issue that’s top of mind for voters in her district is reproductive rights, she said. Among Republicans from the far-western edges to more affluent central areas, voters have told her they are concerned about the abortion ban and some even think about moving out of Missouri because it.
“That has struck a nerve,” she said. “People are underestimating Warren County, Franklin County, and I think people are scared.”
Gunby has support from young voters as well. The St. Louis Young Democrats recently endorsed Gunby over Reed, though he more closely represents the group’s age group. Marquis Gowan, the group’s vice president, said Gunby has helped them organize around gun violence, LGBTQ rights, and several other issues.
“At the end of the day, I think it’s about who fights for the policies that matter most to young folks and who has the best strategy,” he said. “We decided to support Trish because she shows up. We trust her to be a strong advocate for progressive values in Congress.”