Missouri’s Political Shake-up

Blunt’s Departure May Alter Political Terrain

Posted January 23, 2008 at 6:49pm

Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt’s (R) recent decision to forgo his shot at a second term may create another competitive House race in the Show Me State, a perennial statewide battleground whose leak-proof Congressional map could be put to the test in November.

Blunt, the 37-year-old son of House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R), announced Tuesday that he will not run again in November. Dogged by a cloud of ethics-related allegations from Democrats and lagging support in the polls, Blunt said in an Internet video that he had accomplished what he set out to do as governor and would like to spend more time with his family.

A recent Research 2000 poll conducted for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and a local television station suggested Blunt faced significant obstacles in winning a second term. The survey, conducted in November, had Blunt taking just 42 percent of the vote, compared with 51 percent for the likely Democratic nominee, state Attorney General Jay Nixon.

Blunt also paid a Kansas City-based law firm roughly $90,000 for undisclosed legal fees during the last two months of 2007. A call to Blunt’s Jefferson City press office regarding the legal fees was not returned before press time.

But with the younger Blunt out of the picture, Republicans are calling do-over on the election season, arguing that the political terrain has changed and that the party has a chance to offer a “fresh look” on a race that turned ugly early.

“[Blunt] wasn’t really a drag on the ticket, but that race … probably would’ve [been] decided] at two o’clock in the morning” after Election Day, a Missouri Republican source said Wednesday. “Both [Blunt and Nixon] had some flaws. This just reshuffles the deck so much. … Now the Democrats have a candidate with a ton of baggage and Republicans may end up with one who doesn’t have any.”

“[Blunt] didn’t have the fire in the belly,” the source added. “He had to be talked into it two or three times and over Christmas he just said: ‘I’m going get the snot kicked out of me for the next 11 months for a job that I barely want.’”

With Blunt’s imminent departure, two Republican House Members, Reps. Jo Ann Emerson and Kenny Hulshof, are said to be considering runs to replace him. A Missouri Republican source said Emerson, Hulshof and former Sen. Jim Talent (R) all are possible top-tier candidates.

All three declined to speak with Roll Call Wednesday regarding their deliberations about running.

Still, should one or both sitting House Members decide to run, their districts may join the slugfest between Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes (D) in the competitive column.

Democrats and Republican sources in the state agree that Hulshof’s district offers the best opportunity for a competitive open-seat challenge. Both parties, sources claim, have deep benches in the district, which runs east from liberal college towns in central Missouri to conservative parts of the St. Louis suburbs, before running north and capturing Mark Twain’s hometown of Hannibal and other sparsely populated rural areas.

During the last round of Congressional redistricting, Hulshof’s seat went from a 54 percent to 57 percent GOP-performing district. President Bush took 55 percent of the district’s vote in 2000 and 59 percent in 2004, although during the last White House election, Sen. John Kerry’s (D-Mass.) presidential campaign abandoned Missouri for more favorable terrain.

Since his first victory in 1996, Hulshof only once has received less than 60 percent of the general election vote — a not-uncommon margin for incumbents in a state with surgically precise Congressional districts.

During the 100 years of combined House service shared by Missouri’s nine incumbents, only Hulshof, who won with 59 percent in 2000, and two others have won a re-election contest with less than 60 percent: Rep. Ike Skelton (D) in 1982 and Emerson in 1996.

Should Hulshof decide to take a shot at the governor’s mansion, Greg Steinhoff (R), Matt Blunt’s economic development director, “would be a natural” to run for the House seat, according to a Republican source.

“He’s a Republican Democrats don’t mind having around,” the source said.

A Democratic source in that state said “credible Democrats will emerge” to run for Congress should Hulshof throw his hat into the wide-open gubernatorial race. Such a scenario may complicate state Rep. Judy Baker’s (D) already slim chances, while offering Democrats the best shot at winning with possible candidates such as former Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell (D) and former state Speaker Steve Gaw (D).

“EMILY’s List would think [Baker’s] done a noble enough job that they’d stay with her, [but] local politicos would abandon her in droves if Maxwell got in,” the Democratic source said. “There’s s a general feeling, ‘God love her for trying to take on Kenny,’ but she’s probably not a great fit for that district.”

The source added: “Maxwell and Gaw are probably better for the cultural leanings of that district.”

And although old-line Democrats continue to fill local posts throughout Emerson’s rural southeastern Missouri district, sources from both parties agree that Democrats have less-realistic chances for a possible pickup in her conservative-leaning district.

“Half the Republican leadership in the state resides there,” a Republican source said. “Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, if he doesn’t run for governor, would run for that seat and would be a solid shoo-in.”

A Democratic source agreed that Emerson’s district “is a little more complicated,” in that the electorate — despite numerous Democratic office-holders at the local level — tends to be quite conservative and unorganized.

“It’s not immediately obvious who the candidate should or would be,” the source said.

“You have to give a lot of credit to Emerson’s operation: They’ve destroyed the Democratic infrastructure down there.”