The Missouri Senate race in 2010

On January 8th, GOP Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond of Missouri announced that he would not seek re-election. Bond has a long, distinguished career in Missouri and national politics and has held his current Senate seat since 1986. He’s a fairly dependable conservative vote, with an 82.5% lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union. He disappoints hard-core conservatives on occasion, as with his recent support for the automaker bailout, but he is, in general, a dependable vote for the GOP (for example, today’s opposition to protectionism in the Obama economic destruction recovery legislation). Considering the current battle for the GOP to hold fillibuster rights, Bond’s seat is critical, and will be one of THE key matchups in 2010.

As a Missouri resident, I have an above-average interest in this contest, and plan to write on the topic on a regular basis here at Redstate. This past week I spoke to a local Missouri GOP operative to get their take on the race as it stands today and to gain some insights about how things might transpire as the potential candidates begin to organize and the campaign ramps up over the next 18 months or so. Many of their thoughts and quotes are reflected here.

In a previous diary, Brian Simpson, a fellow Missourian and Redstate regular, posted a very nice preview of the potential candidates from both sides; this is, in part, a review of similar information that Brian provided.

It appears right now that there are three key Republicans who are actively considering the post, although this could obviously change:

Roy Blunt
Right now Rep. Blunt appears to be perhaps the most logical candidate for the job. He has a prominent role in House leadership, although he recently resigned his role as Minority Whip in the wake of the GOP losses in November. He is a great conservative voice in the House, with a 93.76 lifetime rating from the ACU (the only MO representative with a better rating is Rep. Todd Akin). Blunt has represented Missouri’s 7th district since 1997, has statewide (and national) name-recognition, has only one real “negative” at this point – the somewhat-negative backwash from Governor (and Rep. Blunt’s son) Matt Blunt. Today this may be a slight issue, but by this time next year, those memories will fade and Rep. Blunt would be running a full-blown campaign that will define himself to the voters as a Senate candidate. Blunt has one other key attribute: the ability to raise a lot of money.
Jim Talent
Jim Talent was U.S. Senator from Missouri from 2002-2006 (he won the seat in a special election from Jean Carnahan, who served for two years following the posthumous election of her husband Mel in 2000). Prior to his Senate term, Talent served as U.S. Representative from MO-2, a seat now held by Todd Akin (R). Talent narrowly lost his Senate seat in 2006 to current MO Senator Claire McCaskill in a hotly-contested race that saw some controversy due to Talent’s opposition to embryonic stem-cell research. ESCR supporters such as Michael J Fox appeared in MO to campaign on the issue against Talent. Talent is a very reliable conservative “ideas guy” but his loss to McCaskill may still be a liability, and he has been largely out of the public eye for a while now. It appears quite unlikely at this point that Talent would compete with Roy Blunt for Bond’s senate seat. (Disclaimer – I am a big Talent fan, so any apparent bias is quasi-intentional…)
Sarah Steelman
Sarah Steelman just completed a term as Missouri State Treasurer. She ran against – and lost to – Kenny Hulshof for Missouri Governor in the 2008 election. Steelman is another solid conservative; many have compared her to Sarah Palin, considering her conservative credentials, reform-minded beliefs, and most obviously – she’s a female. Steelman’s campaign against Hulshof in the gubernatorial primary was very “aggressive.” The campaign was characterized by a great deal of mudslinging and may have damaged Steelman. Research done in January by polling firm Public Policy Polling (PPP) shows a far lower “favorable” rating for Steelman than Blunt and Talent, but a high “unknown”…as I’ve posited here on Redstate before, she likely has little name recognition outside her home territory in south-central Missouri, so “unknown” would be appropriate. It also appears that Steelman may be vunerable due to her opposition to tort reform, which was an issue brought out during the 2008 mudslinging. This concerns the GOP operative I spoke to:

In real life, political rhetoric is merely that. In real life, Biden doesn’t tell funny jokes, Steelman isn’t Palin, and Obama isn’t Lincoln. Palin champions small business and supports lawsuit reform. Steelman is the opposite. In the State Senate, Steelman enlisted with the plaintiff attorney
lobby to block tort reform, and gets significant political donations from this heavily Democrat special interest.

This could be a problem for her again in 2010.

Steelman has gained positive coverage since the Bond announcement. Several bloggers have identified Steelman as an interesting candidate for the job, including Patrick Ruffini of TheNextRight.com, Politico.com, and Erick Erickson here at Redstate.

As one might expect, other names have popped up as potential candidates, such as U.S. Rep Sam Graves (MO-6), aforementioned former US Rep and Gubernatorial candidate Kenny Hulshof, and current Lt. Governor Peter Kinder, who is currently the only GOP statewide office-holder. Brian Simpson’s aforementioned article touches upon a couple of others.

The Opposition
On the Democrat side, Robin Carnahan, MO Secretary of State since 2005, has definitely emerged as the leader for the nomination. She appears to be the heir-apparent based upon past family history and on her success in earning votes. In 2008, she destroyed her GOP opponent, with over 1.7M votes – the largest vote tally for any candidate in Missouri history. The PPP polling data shows that Caranhan is leading each of the top three candidates, with Blunt showing the best results – a one point lead for Carnahan, well within the 3+ point MOE. Obviously this polling data is likely to fluctuate a lot between now and November, 2010.

It is possible that Carnahan will have a bit of a challenge – perhaps from Rep. Lacy Clay (MO-1 St. Louis), a five-term U.S. Congressman, who, like Carnahan has a long family heritage in DC (father Bill Clay was a 32-year US Congressman from St. Louis). Such a challenge could dilute Mrs. Carnahan’s energies and distract the Dems from the GOP candidate during the primary season.

How winnable is the Bond seat for the GOP in 2010? If we look at the results from the 2008 election, things don’t appear entirely positive on the surface. Lt. Gov. Pete Kinder was the only Republican to win statewide office. The electoral map for President became ever so slightly bluer in 2008 than in the 2004 Presidential election, with Obama capturing precincts that stretched slightly farther into the metro area suburbs, and several counties south and west of St. Louis went for Obama that were red in 2004. However, the POTUS race in Missouri in 2008 was not a strong GOP effort. John McCain had no “ground game” to speak of. Obama invested a great deal of time and effort and had a strong campaign infrastructure in place – and he still lost the state. In the 2008 governor’s race, Jay Nixon won a decisive victory over Hulshof, but Hulshof was still damaged from the brutal primary race, and Nixon had a unique ability to define his competition, and because of the situation, Hulshof lost a good chunk of funding in the latter days of the race, further compounding the loss. 2008 was a Democrat year, but it doesn’t appear to be an insurmountable or permanent situation.

One advantage – Missouri demographics continue to favor the GOP. Even though Obama and the Dems did make inroads in 2008, the core population in MO continues to swing in a direction that trends Republican. Part of the “blue trickle” in the St. Louis area can be explained by the outward migration of voters moving from inside the I-270 belt to the west and south suburbs. An interesting voter demographic: in 2008, 24.6% of POTUS votes in the state of MO came from St. Louis City and county. That number has fallen steadily since 1968:

% of MO Presidential votes cast in St. Louis City/County:
2008 – 24.6%
2004 – 25.2%
1988 – 30.2%
1968 – 33.5%

In the Kansas City area, the share of GOP votes in Jackson County, MO has grown over the last four elections:

1996 – 42.6%
2000 – 49.2%
2004 – 54.1%
2008 – 49.9%

The influence of the (heavily Democrat) large cities area has declined significantly, and this explains much of the trend towards a GOP-friendly Missouri…the “heartland” areas of the state have gained quite a bit more influence, and that has been apparent in the last two Presidential elections. We shall see if the Obama coattails extend to 2010.

What is the status of the GOP candidates today? It appears that Roy Blunt is in the driver’s seat. If he decides to run, he can and likely will be a “ticket-clearing” candidate – it is unlikely that either Talent or Steelman will challenge Blunt in a primary. Talent will not want to oppose a friend. And at this point, the prospects of a Steelman win over Blunt are remote, at best. She could not beat Hulshof in the primary for Governor, and she cannot afford to lose another major election…this would likely doom her prospects for the future (my source tells me that Steelman is not known for making political decisions that are “irrationally self-destructive”). Furthermore, the GOP cannot stand for another bloody primary like the one between Steelman and Hulshof. Steelman’s current fav/unfav ratings are undoubtedly in part due to the aftereffects of that race and the vicious nature of the bad blood that flowed.

If Blunt does NOT run? All bets are off. The second-tier of candidates mentioned above immediately become viable, and either Talent or Steelman – most likely Steelman – become the front runner(s). Others may also enter the race, such as Todd Akin (R-02 St. Louis), Sam Graves (R-06 Kansas City), or Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-08 Cape Girardeau). Kenny Hulshof would be a longshot due to his trouncing in 2008 and the fact that he’s just joined a law firm in the Kansas City area as a public policy specialist.

I will continue to focus on the Missouri Senate race as 2010 approaches. This is a critical Senate seat for the GOP to retain, and it will garner widespread attention in political and media circles. Watch this space for more as it happens…