On Aug. 5, 2014, Bob McCulloch was nominated for a seventh term as St. Louis County’s prosecutor. Four days later, Michael Brown was shot dead in Ferguson, Mo., by police officer Darren Wilson. Despite his controversial handling of the Brown case, McCulloch hasn’t had to answer to voters for nearly four years. He had no opponent in the 2014 general election, although 11,000 people wrote in other names. Now, McCulloch — currently Missouri’s longest-serving elected official — faces next week perhaps his most serious challenge since first winning the job back in 1990, reports Governing. “This is the event that has marked our region, that is literally in the history books already,” says Wesley Bell, a Ferguson City Council member and McCulloch’s opponent in the Aug. 7 primary. “Most people don’t agree with the way that he handled Ferguson.”
Still, McCulloch remains a favorite for reelection. In June, he reported fundraising of nearly $250,000, more than six times the size of Bell’s treasury. The incumbent is a close ally of leading area politicians. He’s backed by a number of labor unions. He has the endorsement of every living former police chief in St. Louis County. Bell argues that McCulloch is vulnerable because of policies that predate the Michael Brown shooting. Homicide and violent crime rates, he notes, are on the rise in the county. “That antiquated model of focusing on conviction rates and looking strong, that model is not working and is not making us safer,” Bell says. “In fact, it’s making us less safe.” In recent years, reform-minded candidates have won races for district attorney in Chicago, Denver, Houston, Philadelphia and the city of St. Louis, which is separate from the county. “Bell’s campaign …does seem to be a reflection of a nationwide trend in DA races,” says David Sklansky, a Stanford law professor.