“I want to be the candidate who happens to be a veteran, not the veteran who happens to be a candidate.” That was Mark Osmack’s response when we asked him what it’s like to run for office as a veteran. That question might not be asked in other races, but in Missouri, where we’re still reeling from the scandals of our former Governor Eric Greitens, who branded himself as the conservative Navy SEAL, we felt it was worth asking.
Osmack continued. “Governor Greitens was the veteran who happened to be a candidate. He rapelled off arenas, roofs. He fired Gatling guns. He used explosions. He made that a centerpiece of his campaign. Actually, what he did was, I think, a detriment to all veterans no matter the party. It was dripping with unnecessary machoism and testosterone and masculinity that I think poison a lot of things. But I wanted to be the … and hopefully am the complete opposite of him.”
You’d be forgiven if you haven’t heard the name Mark Osmack. National media has completely ignored a lot of congressional races and local media doesn’t give this one the attention it deserves. Osmack is running to be the Democrat who defeats Ann Wagner in Missouri’s Second Congressional District. He was born and raised in St.Louis, he comes from a double-wide trailer and divorced parents. He bounced around a lot of different school districts (but he graduated from Lindbergh, for those of you ready to ask the St. Louis high school question). He earned a degree from Mizzou then enlisted in United States army, serving two tours in Afghanistan. He was a member of UFCW Local 655 in St. Louis, and in Washington worked for Sen. Claire McCaskill and later then- Rep. Tammy Duckworth as a graduate policy intern. He earned his masters from George Washington University in 2016 and now he’s home continuing what might be a hereditary call to public service.
Osmack says “My dad is a nurse practitioner. My mom’s a chaplain. Both brothers were in the Marines. One still is in…. my sister’s a nurse. That’s where I learned service. To serve something or someone higher and better and bigger than you. To me, that’s this.”The “this” of course is serving in the United States House of Representatives. However, it’s harder to serve if you don’t win. so we asked Osmack how exactly do we flip the 2nd district, take back Congress, take back the Governor’s mansion and eventually win the White House.
“We beat them with policy,” he said. That’s fairly succinct, but it actually says a lot. We aren’t going to beat Donald Trump on personality or other Republicans on culture issues: They just simply are better at messaging. Right-to-Work doesn’t sound like it would gut the working class, but it does, and pro-life makes everyone else sound “anti-life.” So Osmack might be onto something, if we’re gonna take it to Republicans and be competitive everywhere, all we’ve got to win on is policy.
But what exactly do these policies look like? According to Osmack “strong” and “progressive,” which would represent a sea change from the “conservative values” that incumbent Congresswoman Ann Wagner extols on her campaign site.
There’s an aphorism in politics that states “If you play middle of the road, you’ll get run over. So you’d better pick a lane.” Osmack has picked a lane, and he isn’t pretending to be a centrist or exactly mincing words about where he stands. “I’m Mark. I’m a progressive. I’m a Democrat. We end the wars. Medicare for all.” According to Osmack, his accessibility (going so far to give out his private number on Facebook live) has been an asset in the sense that voters know him and he knows the voters. “We honestly do try to be everywhere as best we can with our staff and myself… I think it’s a big difference between Representative Wagner and myself but also maybe some of the other candidates,” he said.
About those voters, Osmack is running in a district that hasn’t elected a Democrat in nearly 30 years and was carried by Donald Trump by 10 points. If he wins the primary in August, it will almost certainly be an uphill battle in November. Winning will require turning out most Democrats who voted in 2016, staying competitive with independents, and peeling off some traditionally Republican voters who might have some frustration about Wagner’s lack of communication with her constituents or her steadfast support of the President’s agenda. But thanks to the energy of activist groups in the area. like Mom’s Demand Action, and a favorable generic ballot, the odds are slowly drifting in favor of Osmack, or whoever becomes the nominee.
Osmack and his democratic competitors don’t differ all that much on policy. Osmack supports Medicare for All (Sen. Claire McCaskill supports a Medicare buy-in for adults between the age of 55 and 65), he supports gun reform. and he doesn’t miss an opportunity to point out that Ann Wagner has “taken over $9,000 from the NRA.”He supports unions, reproductive freedom for women, an end to the war on drugs. He supports the fight against VA privatization, ending foreign wars, reversing the Citizens United decision, and is in synch with host of other progressive stances.
That last thing, Citizens United and reforming the fundraising culture of political campaigns, is personal for Osmack. We asked him about the extent some candidates go to raise campaign dollars, and he went on at some length about his thoughts on the subject. Osmack started talking about his own negative experiences with campaign money: “Money is the biggest challenge,” he said. “I get asked that question more than anything else. Before I get asked, ‘Mark, you believe in Medicare? Mark, are you from here?’ It’s, ‘How much money do you have?’ Which is upsetting… It’s too easy and it’s actually a lazy approach to just look at FEC filings and say, ‘Candidate XYZ, whatever, has this much money,’ and therefore the implication is they must be doing something right. And if you don’t have that much money, you must be doing something wrong.”
It’s no secret that Osmack has been outraised by one of his opponents for the nomination, Cort VanOstran, by a significant amount. Osmack says that money should be a determining factor in who voters end up supporting. “It’s okay that people support my opponent… but when one reason is, ‘He has more money,’ that’s not support. Then, you know what? Support Ann Wagner. She has more money than all of us ever will,” he said.
Osmack believes that when we talk about money, we avoid talking about policy and it takes a tone that’s inherently elitist. Osmack said, “We fall into this typically Republican mantra, if you’re poor you must be lazy. If you only worked harder, you’d have more money… People who work 40, 50, 60, 70 hours a week for minimum wage or slightly above it work hard. The fact is, it’s very difficult, if not almost impossible, to get ahead when you’re working that much for that little. S,o to imply that whoever has the most money is working harder is a fallacy. Again, I think it’s dangerous, it’s going against basic democratic and I think American or even human ideals to say that if you don’t have money, if you’re poor, you must be lazy. That is a caste system that is outdated, it is not true and it is detrimental to, as subversive or as subliminal as it is, it is detrimental to where we need to go as a city, state and nation.”
But Osmack is still determined, in the face of people who like to compare fundraising numbers. He touts his endorsements from Sen. Tammy Duckworth, VoteVets, Rep. Sue Meredith, Rep. Bruce Franks, two Democratic townships, and the Fraternal Order of Police, which is a labor union that represents over 7,000 law enforcement officers. Osmack says, “I am humbled and honored to have the endorsements that we have earned and none of them have been because of the amount of my bank account. They’ve been because of the messaging or the experience.”
As of this writing, Osmack’s campaign has knocked on more than 14,000 doors, and yard signs are scattered across the district. Osmack told us that he’s focused on simply trying to give something back to the community that has given him so much. “This is my home,” he said. “I think if you’re going to represent an area, you should know the schools. I think you should know the damages that happened when the Chrysler plant closed in 2008 and ’09. The second and third order effects, not just the people employed at that Chrysler plant in Fenton, about 15,000 jobs and $45 billion…It does make me even more emboldened and committed. This, for me, is not a political convenience or a situational convenience. This is my home. It’s why I can’t run in Southwest Missouri. I’m not from there.”