Blunt’s Departure Sets Off Scramble

Nodler May Make Third Run for 7th District Seat

Posted February 23, 2009 at 6:33pm

Missouri Republican Rep. Roy Blunt’s recent announcement that he will seek to replace retiring Sen. Kit Bond (R) in 2010 means a reliably Republican district will be up for grabs in the Show Me State next year.

Blunt’s southwestern 7th district has historically voted overwhelmingly for Republicans — 2008 GOP presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) won every county there with more than 55 percent. Blunt’s successor and the next Member from the district is all but certain to be decided in the August GOP primary.

With no obvious heir apparent to Blunt, a bevy of state legislators are looking at the race. Unlike Blunt, who hails from the population center around Springfield, many of his prospective successors are from the western part of the district.

State Sen. Jack Goodman (R) has represented several counties in the southern part of the district for four years. Local Republican sources say Goodman is the most likely candidate to run for Blunt’s seat, but he said in a phone interview he had not made a final decision yet.

“I am looking very seriously at it and there is a very high likelihood that I will, but my wife and I are still looking through the last parts of that decision,” Goodman said.

Goodman would not say whether he had spoken with the National Republican Congressional Committee yet, but he confirmed that he had spoken to Blunt about his interest in the seat.

“The Congressman and I are friends and have been for some time,” Goodman said. “He knows of my interest in the seat, and that’s probably the extent of what I can say there, too.”

Republican state Sen. Gary Nodler has run for the 7th district seat both times it has been open in the past three decades, but he is on the fence about whether to toss his hat into the ring for a third try. Nodler is chairman of the state Senate Appropriations Committee and represents two western counties in the district, including the second-most-populous city, Joplin.

“I’ve had a lot of encouragement to make the race,” Nodler said. “I think generally the point of view is … I just have more experience than any of the potential candidates.”

Nodler served as district director for then- Rep. Gene Taylor (R-Mo.) and ran for his seat in 1988 when Taylor retired. Taylor backed Nodler in that race, but he narrowly lost the primary to Mel Hancock, who went on to win the seat.

Nodler ran again in 1996 when Hancock retired, losing to Blunt 56 percent to 44 percent in the primary.

Nodler confirmed that he has spoken to Blunt about the seat, although he has yet to make a final decision.

“I haven’t decided,” he said. “I was really intensely thinking about it, and I decided to stop thinking about it for a few months.”

Also from the western part of the district, state Rep. Bryan Stevenson (R) said he too is considering a bid for Blunt’s seat but would not make a final decision until May at the earliest. He added, however, that he was seriously leaning toward entering the race.

“I am looking at it very seriously,” he said. “I have not made a final decision yet. My wife and I are talking about it, prayin’ about it.”

Stevenson, who is a lawyer, has a history of loaning money to his own campaigns and said he could be inclined to self-fund some of his Congressional bid.

“I’ve got a lot of experience that I can bring to the table,” he said. “While they are very big shoes to fill, I certainly feel qualified to serve the people of southwest Missouri pretty well.”

Jasper County Republican Party Chairman John Putnam is also mentioned as someone who might be interested in running for Blunt’s seat, but he did not return a request for comment.

With a handful of candidates from the less-populous western and southern parts of the district running, a single candidate from the Springfield area could have an advantage in the GOP primary.

GOP state Rep. Shane Schoeller, whose base is north of Springfield in Greene County, also could have interest in running for Blunt’s seat. Schoeller worked for Blunt as a legislative aide and also worked for his son, former Gov. Matt Blunt (R), when the younger Blunt was Missouri secretary of state.

Schoeller did not return a call for comment, although Missouri Republican sources familiar with the district said he had previously expressed interest in succeeding his former boss.

Former state Rep. B.J. Marsh (R) also said he would take a look at running for the seat. A twelve-year veteran of the state Legislature, Marsh was term-limited out of office in January.

“I’m a little interested,” Marsh said. “I’ve got to evaluate it and look it over.”

Marsh said he would also be able to put in some seed money for his campaign — up to around $100,000 — should he decide to run. Marsh said he had not yet talked to Blunt about the race.

And just south of Springfield, Nixa Alderman Kevin Elmer (R) is also seriously looking at running for Blunt’s seat.

Elmer, who is a partner at a Springfield law firm, is a relative political newcomer and would be considered an underdog in a field of several current and former state legislators. Elmer won his first race to become an alderman in April 2008 by three votes.