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Talent’s Exit Opens Floodgates for Tea Party in Missouri

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It’s off to the races in Missouri, as Republicans are considering Senate bids to challenge first-term Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.

As Sen. Claire McCaskill braces for a tough re-election bid in 2012, Missouri Republicans are scrambling to figure out who they will put on the ballot against her. What looked like an obvious rematch between the Democrat and former Sen. Jim Talent has turned into a free-for-all on the Republican side since Talent won’t run after all. 

With the swing state losing a House seat through reapportionment, some GOP Members are considering trying for a promotion. But in a continuation of the 2010 tea party surge, candidates affiliated with the movement are eyeing bids and are already criticizing those with “insider” credentials.

The race started to get more crowded Monday when Ed Martin, a former Congressional candidate who helped start the influential St. Louis Tea Party, announced he would run for the seat in an online video. Breaking from other contenders who are conferring privately with colleagues about whether they might run in an effort to avoid intraparty battles, Martin told Roll Call that he made his own decision about the race. 

“I’m not the career politician insider guy, despite having been successful in various ways, so I stopped thinking about whose permission I had to ask,” he said Monday afternoon. Martin said he made about 150 calls related to the race in the two weeks leading up to his announcement but hasn’t been involved in conversations about which candidates might not run if other candidates jump in.

Martin is best known in the state for serving as chief of staff for former Gov. Matt Blunt (R). He ran a close race against Rep. Russ Carnahan (D) last fall.

Senate hopefuls have been eager to take up the tea party mantle, even though, as Martin pointed out, the tea party does not endorse candidates. 

Gina Loudon, a tea party activist who lives west of St. Louis, said she has gotten calls from potential candidates, including at least three whose names haven’t already been mentioned publicly. 

“I don’t think it will be as predictable as the political pundits in the past have thought it would be,” she told Roll Call. 

In the 2010 Senate race, then-Rep. Roy Blunt ran into some problems with tea party activists during his GOP primary bid, drawing protests for his role in helping pass the Wall Street bailout bill in 2008. 

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