Thursday, September 02, 2010

Missouri U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

Missouri U.S. Senate

September 2, 2010
61 Days Until Election Day

Status: Republican Open
2008 Presidential Result: Red State (Midwest)

Outlook: Leans Republican

An open seat. A battleground state that has seen some of the closest U.S. Senate elections in the nation over the past ten years. Two political dynasties. The recipe is present for a Show Me State Showdown that looked ready to rivet the political nation. However, at this point, one of the candidates looks to be a favorite.

When Republican Senator Kit Bond announced he would not seek in a fifth term, Democrats were feeling bullish about winning his seat, in the wake of very successful cycles in 2006 and 2008. Missouri had gained the reputation of being the ultimate political bellwether, although the state did end it's winning streak by narrowly voting for losing Presidential candidate John McCain.

The Democrats quickly turned to a candidacy for the Senate seat by Secretary of State Robin Carnahan. She had quite an impressive political pedigree. Her father was a veteran of Missouri elections, and was finishing up his second term as Governor, and in the closing stages of a tossup race for the U.S. Senate in 2000, when he died in a plane crash, along with a son, and a couple others. Due in large part to the sympathy factor, Mel Carnahan was posthumously elected that year, with the understanding that his widow Jean would be appointed to replace him. Two years later, Senator Jean Carnahan was not able to win election in her own right, as she lost a close Senate election to a Republican, who four years later would taste his own narrow defeat. In 2004 though, the Carnahan name was once again victorious at the ballot box, as Robin won statewide office and her brother Russ was elected to Congress from the St. Louis area.

On the GOP side, the frontrunner was another politician with an interesting background. Roy Blunt had gotten into politics as a very young man and first ran statewide at the age of 30. Four years later, he won the office of Secretary of State, which Carnahan now holds, but eight years after that, was unsuccessful in a bid for his party's Gubernatorial nomination. After a brief respite from politics, he entered Congress in 1996 and quickly moved up the leadership ladder, all the way to acting Majority Leader, during part of the George W. Bush Administration. The Capitol Hill ups and downs continued for Blunt as the GOP Conference did not vote for him to serve a full term in that role, but he would eventually return as Whip. By 2008, the Congressman realized he had reached his ceiling as a member of the House leadership, and when the Senate seat came open, he found his avenue for a new job.

In the meantime, Blunt's son Matt, had also been elected Secretary of State, before his 30th birthday, and four years later, became the youngest Governor in the nation. While Governor Matt Blunt may have been seen as a rising national political star, his tenure of Governor was far from trouble-free and he struggled with low approval ratings and choose not to seek reelection in 2008.

So, it seemed odd that a figure like Roy Blunt, a longtime Congressman, who was associated with numerous deal making during an unpopular time for Republicans on the Hill, and the former "First Father" of a state's unpopular Governor would be such a frontrunner for a battleground Senate seat. Blunt did face some primary opposition and some on the right assailed him for Congress's spending habits, and some social conservatives may have been troubled by his divorce from his wife of 35 years and quick remarriage to a lobbyist, but the candidate did manage to win his primary in an easy fashion and advanced to the general election against Carnahan (who happened to meet her new husband, not long after his marriage had broken up.)

Considering Blunt's vulnerabilities, and Carnahan's famous name and recent statewide success, this looked like it could be the toughest current Republican held Senate seat to hold. For months, many polls showed a deadlocked race between the two likely nominees. Gradually though, as the Obama Administration's poll numbers began to sag, Blunt proceeded to inch further ahead. Polls from August show him ahead by a margin between 7 and 11 points. One recent university poll is still showing the race as tied, but few believe that Blunt does not know have an advantage.

Loads of money are likely to continue to pour into Missouri and the race has to be considered to be competitive. However, national issues and trends are as likely to tell the tale here, than anywhere else. Missouri was the one state in 2008 that Obama had failed to carry, in which much attention had been played, and his numbers since have dropped dramatically. Issues such as health care reform have gotten much attention in this year's Senate race, as Republicans are trying to portray Carnahan as a "rubber stamp" for the White House. For her part, the Democrat nominee for the Senate seems to be doing her best to keep the President at arm's length, but he has shown an interest in campaigning for her, and has done so a few times already.

With Democrats playing so much U.S. Senate defense nationally, this race may have slipped a great deal off their priority list, as the Republican mood of the electorate this fall is expected to favor Republicans and should deliver a victory for Blunt over a member of the Carnahan Dynasty. While brother Russ's district is considered quite strong for Democrats, there is even talk that a national wave could fail to leave him unscathed too.

Blunt campaign link:

2010 U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 4 D, 16 R
Predicted U.S. Senate Balance of Power thus far: 44 D, 39 R