Race to Replace Blunt Features Crowded Cast

Posted May 13, 2009 at 6:16pm

Nearly three months after Rep. Roy Blunt (R) announced his plans to run for Senate, the Republican primary to replace him in Missouri’s conservative Southwestern 7th district is a crowded affair — and it appears likely to keep growing.

Last week, Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Darrell Moore added his name to the list of would-be Blunt successors, and before the month is out state Sen. Gary Nodler said he would announce his much-anticipated decision on whether he’ll throw his hat into the ring.

“My guess is it will get somewhat bigger before it gets somewhat smaller,— Nodler said.

In a district that went for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) last year by nearly 30 points, the GOP primary field is pretty much the only field that matters. Nodler said the rigors of the campaign trail over the next 10 months before the state’s filing deadline will likely serve to weed out some of the pretenders in the race.

“All of the folks who posture may or may not end up being candidates who make the trip to the state Capitol and file,— he said.

If he gets in, Nodler would certainly be a candidate who could go the distance.

The only public poll that has been released on the race showed Nodler with a double-digit lead over several of the early GOP candidates, and the state lawmaker said he probably knows the district as well as anyone can.

Nodler has twice run for the 7th district seat when it has come open. In his most recent bid in 1996, Blunt’s higher name identification and deeper pockets helped propel him to a 12-point primary victory over Nodler. Since then, Nodler has won two state Senate races and is now chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee.

Nodler also hails from Joplin, the second-largest city in the district behind Springfield, and if he runs he would have the advantage of being the only candidate from Joplin and the surrounding Jasper County area. Of course that could change if Jasper County GOP Chairman John Putnam, who is rumored to be considering his own bid, gets into the race.

Nodler also doesn’t lack for confidence.

“If I run, I will be able to raise money in more parts of this Congressional district than any other Congressional candidate— in the race, he said. “I will have a less regional fundraising report in the sense that I think you’ll see contributions from every part of the Congressional district.—

If Nodler does get into the race, it will be interesting to see how deep he’ll be able to penetrate into the Springfield electorate, which is expected to be divided by several candidates from the area who will be competing for votes and campaign contributions.

Moore has served as Green County’s prosecutor for more than a decade and is one of the candidates from Springfield. After announcing his candidacy last week, he made an appearance in Joplin on Monday.

Moore may be able to distinguish himself by staking out a more moderate position in the primary.

“I think there needs to be a different tone in the Republican Party,— Moore said on Wednesday. “The American people are getting to the point and are to the point where they are furious with both parties who have people on the extremes … who spend most of their time making fun of or coming up with cute quotes about or deriding— those who disagree with them.

“I would say that my principles and values are traditional conservative principles and values,— he added. “The processes and procedures I use in pursuit of implementing those principles and values is more moderate than some.—

Another significant primary candidate from Springfield is Convoy of Hope President Hal Donaldson, who formed an exploratory committee in March but has been relatively silent since then.

The other major candidate from Springfield is also the one with the largest personality. Auctioneer Billy Long is a political novice, a trait that he believes is a plus for his Congressional campaign. He turned heads in GOP circles by reporting nearly $240,000 in cash on hand at the end of March. That total includes a $100,000 check that Long wrote to his campaign in March.

“The way I distinguish myself is I’m not a politician and I’m not a lawyer,— Long said on Wednesday. “We keep sending career politicians to D.C., and it doesn’t seem to be working very well.—

A small-business owner and salesman for 30 years, Long openly admits that his public image will be the way he’ll distinguish himself in a crowded field.

“Ronald Reagan in my opinion was no different from any other conservative in his day,— Long said. “But what did he bring to the table? … A little bit of personality. He did it with a wink and a smile and a nudge.

“As far as substance, there might not be a lot of … difference in any of the candidates running,— Long added. “But on style there’s going to be a heck of a lot of difference.—

It will be interesting to see if Long can build on his large personality, his checkbook and some mounting populist rage in the state and beat some of the more experienced campaigners at their own game.

“He’s a great character. He’s a real down-home Ozark,— said David Catanese, who runs Springfield TV station KY3’s Political Notebook blog. “His Achilles heel is just that he’s a novice, and he probably would be the one who might make a mistake. He’s all charm, but how long does that last when people start challenging him on issues like foreign policy and what’s going on in the world?—

One man who might be able to challenge Long on those issues is state Sen. Jack Goodman, who was the first candidate to jump into the race to replace Blunt.

Goodman hails from the more rural southern part of the district and was first elected to the state House in 2002, before winning his Senate seat in 2005.

Goodman is the former chairman of the 7th Congressional District Republican Committee, and he said Wednesday that he’s planning a major fundraising push once the state legislative session ends this week. He ended March with nearly $75,000 in cash on hand.

Professor and Iraq War veteran Jeff Wisdom has also announced his candidacy in the 7th district, and several local elected officials are also rumored to be considering the race.