ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis County District Attorney Wesley Bell announced Monday that he will abandon his bid to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley in 2024 and instead run against fellow Democratic Rep. American Cori Bush.
Bell, 48, will oppose Bush in the 2024 Democratic primary for the 1st seat in Missouri’s congressional district that covers St. Louis and part of St. Louis County. The move comes as Bush has been criticized for her response to the Hamas attack on Israel, including her call in a social media post to end the US government’s “support for the Israeli military occupation and ‘apartheid’.
Both Bell and Bush are black and both became political forces following the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, a death that helped spark Black Lives Matter Movement. Bush was elected to the House in 2020, pulling off a stunning upset against veteran Democrat William Lacy Clay, and won re-election in 2022.
In 2018, Bell caused an equally surprising surprise when he Bob McCulloch knocked down as St. Louis County District Attorney.
Bell said at a news conference that he was changing course, even though he believed he was the Democrat best positioned to defeat Hawley — an admittedly daunting task in very conservative Missouri. He said several people across the state have urged him to run for Congress.
He also criticized Bush’s stance toward Hamas and Israel.
“Understand this unique place we are with the world literally on fire,” Bell said. “I think we need to make sure that we provide that effective leadership, not only in our district but in Washington and on the world stage.”
A Bush campaign statement called it “disheartening that Attorney Bell decided to abandon his U.S. Senate campaign to become Missouri’s first black senator after less than five months, and instead decided to target the Missouri’s first black congresswoman.”
The statement said Bush was elected “on the basis of a bold and progressive vision” and that her re-election in 2022 provided a clear mandate.
“The Congresswoman remains focused on working with her Democratic colleagues to prevent MAGA extremists from further eroding our basic human rights and blocking critical resources for our communities, and she will continue to advance a pro-St. Petersburg campaign.” Louis, pro-democracy, pro-peace. No matter who races and when, this focus will not change,” the statement said.
St. Louis is overwhelmingly Democratic, and the winner of the August primary will be the heavy favorite to win in November. So far, Bush and Bell are the only ones in the running.
Bush, 47, was easily re-elected last year despite a challenge from Democratic Sen. Steve Roberts, who positioned himself as a more moderate alternative.
Last week, she was among ten House members who voted against a resolution supporting Israel following the Hamas attacks that began on October 7. Meanwhile, his comments drew rebukes from some, including former Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri.
On October 11, McCaskill posted an article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch titled “St. Louis Post-Dispatch” on X, formerly known as Twitter. Cori Bush of Louis draws ire for his statement on Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel.
“As she should,” McCaskill posted.
In the Democratic Senate primary, Bell positioned himself against four other candidates. The projected favorite is Marine veteran Lucas Kunce, who launched his campaign to unseat Hawley in January, on the anniversary of the Capitol riots of January 6, 2021. Bell, in announcing his Senate candidacy in June, highlighted a now-famous photo of Hawley. raise a closed fist in solidarity that day, as well as video of the senator running through the halls during the attack.
The photo drew sharp criticism from some, but it now appears on coffee mugs the senator sells.
Bell and Bush had contrasting styles in Ferguson, after white officer Darren Wilson fatally shot Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old.
As an angry crowd began surrounding barricaded officers in the police parking lot the day after the shooting, Bell and a small group of other black leaders stood in the middle and called for calm. Bell was a municipal judge and attorney at the time, and his father was a police officer. It was elected to the Ferguson City Council in 2015.
The shooting sparked months of unrest. Bush was one of the leaders of many of these protests. In Congress, she has spoken in favor of shifting money from police to areas such as mental health and social services.
Critics had accused McCulloch, who is white, of biasing the investigation into Brown’s death in favor of Wilson. A St. Louis County grand jury declined to indict Wilson, who later resigned. The US Department of Justice also decreases to charge him – as did Bell. His office revisited the matter after he took office.
Bell said in 2020 that his office did not find enough evidence to charge Wilson. He called the Republican-led Missouri Legislature to revise laws that provide police protection from prosecution that ordinary citizens do not have.
During his tenure as prosecutor, Bell implemented sweeping changes that reduced the prison population, ended prosecutions for minor marijuana crimes and sought to help offenders rehabilitate. He also created an independent unit to investigate police-involved shootings.