Up is down in this cycle’s Senate race in Missouri.
Secretary of State Robin Carnahan (D), the scion of a legendary Show Me State political family, was trailing Rep. Roy Blunt (R) by 13 points in a Time/CNN poll released earlier this month.
The results were just the latest in a string of bad polling news for Carnahan. Around that time, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee pulled out of the state, and Carnahan’s prospects haven’t gotten any better in recent days: She continued to trail, 46 percent to 41 percent, in a Public Policy Polling survey released on Monday.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way, Democrats say. With anti-incumbent sentiment running high across the country, Carnahan’s proven ability at the polls and home-state connections were supposed to make for a rare pickup opportunity for Senate Democrats this cycle.
But the fiscal crisis and her family ties haven’t seemed to help.
“The party in power pays a high price when there’s rough economic times,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). “It’s harder to assume the mantle of an outsider when you are from a family who is so well-known.”
Yes, Democrats reckon, President Barack Obama lost there last cycle, but Carnahan won twice statewide in 2004 and 2008.
Plus, she was running this go-round against a Republican nominee who theoretically could be cast as the quintessential Washington, D.C., insider: A former No. 3 in House Republican leadership, Blunt is married to a registered lobbyist and he sits on the board of trustees at the Kennedy Center.
Blunt also was a top lieutenant to contentious former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), whose rocky tenure and proximity to jailed GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff earlier this decade still make him a favorite target of the Democratic Party.
“If this were almost any other year, Robin Carnahan would roll over Roy Blunt,” said Steve Glorioso, a veteran Democratic political consultant in the state. “He’s got more baggage than a FedEx plane.”
Carnahan’s campaign has attempted to make Blunt’s Capitol Hill tenure the foremost in voters’ minds, but that strategy has apparently yielded only marginal results.
In one recent television ad, a narrator calls Blunt “the very worst in Washington.”
Glorioso said Carnahan’s campaign may have overestimated just how effective it was to merely beat up on Blunt and his wife for their job descriptions.
“I still don’t concede that it’s over, but too much of their attacks have not explained why his corrupting of the system has hurt average Missourians,” Glorioso said.
A Missouri GOP consultant agreed that Republicans, too, are surprised at how effortless Blunt has been able to beat the moniker. The source speculated that cynical voters make little distinction between his Washington, D.C., connections and with Carnahan’s well-known political family; politicians are politicians, the logic goes.
“She’s had a very difficult time making those charges stick,” the Republican consultant said. “It’s mainly because of her own profile and her family has been in politics for a half century.”
Robin Carnahan’s brother is Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.), and her father, Mel Carnahan, served as governor and was running for Senate when he died in a plane crash in 2000. Her mother, Jean, served two years in the Senate after Mel Carnahan’s death.
GOP consultants also claim their side will have the advantage with get-out-the-vote operations this year in Missouri. Traditionally considered a Democratic strong suit in most federal races, Republicans are targeting turnout in once-sleepy Congressional districts represented by Blunt and Reps. Ike Skelton (D) and Jo Ann Emerson (R).
And Republicans are targeting roughly 100 state legislature districts and a county-wide executive seat in St. Louis.
“All of those have their own turnout mechanisms ... that’s giving us a great deal of synergy in the hinterlands,” another Republican consultant said. “We feel very good about the turnout mechanism, but like I tell all of the candidates, you can’t let up now.”
After the DSCC ended an advertising campaign that was widely considered an acknowledgement that Carnahan can no longer win, a DSCC spokesman said the party was not giving up on its candidate. A Democratic operative said it’s more likely that the committee is triaging its television buys in a tough political climate.
Many Democrats still consider the state as a potential Senate pickup opportunity, a Democratic operative said, and they’re not alone in their uncertainty about Missouri.
A Karl Rove-linked group is expected to spend more than $1.5 million there in the next two weeks leading up to Nov. 2, the source said, which shows “Republican groups are still very much invested in the race.”
“It is a very weird time,” the Democratic source said. “We think Democrats are going to win in November in some weird places ... I don’t know if that’s in Missouri.”