Missouri’s Senate Race Reminds Us Politics Is Not Tabloid Theatre

Perhaps this race serves as a welcome reminder that politics is not Tabloid Theater.

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Active sports fans are familiar with the clever phrase “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out.” Intimating, of course, that the fighting in professional hockey frequently garners more enthusiasm than the game itself. 

In a madcap election cycle that has witnessed unforeseeable Tea Party Republican primary upsets (Utah and Connecticut), Democrats rushing to distance themselves from President Obama (West Virginia and Rhode Island--where the Democratic gubernatorial candidate declared two days ago that Obama could take his endorsement and “shove it”), something odd happened on the way to the ballot box: a traditional, competitive campaign broke out.

Missouri is officially known as the “Show Me State”--a motto supposedly generated from the skeptical nature of its inhabitants. Among political analysts, however, it has long been known as the bellwether state. With the exception of 1956 and 2008, Missouri has voted for every winning presidential candidate in both the 20th and 21st centuries. 

In the race to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Kit Bond, long time U.S. House member and former Majority Whip Roy Blunt and Missouri State Treasurer Robin Carnahan are locked in a fiery campaign. Perhaps the first “oddity” of note is that these two candidates were the original favorites of each of their parties to win the nominations--something that this election cycle has not seen much of. Secondly, in the most anti-establishment cycle in decades, both the Blunt and Carnahan names are legendary in Missouri politics. 

[See where Blunt gets his campaign money.]

Blunt has represented Missouri in the U.S. House for 13 years, serving in House leadership during the Bush administration as one of Tom DeLay’s top lieutenants. Blunt was initially the favorite to take over the House as majority leader, but was defeated in a second ballot election by John Boehner. Blunt’s son, Matt, was elected governor of Missouri at age 33. [See which industries contribute to Boehner.]

Carnahan’s father, the late Mel Carnahan, former governor of Missouri, tragically perished in a plane crash only weeks before his election face off against then-incumbent Sen. John Ashcroft. Due to procedural rules, Carnahan’s name remained on the ballot and he defeated Ashcroft posthumousthly. His wife Jean Carnahan fulfilled the first two years of his term until a special election was held. Their daughter, Robin Carnahan, is a two-term popular Missouri secretary of state, who most Missourians generally consider relatively moderate and competent in her statewide office.

With five days to go, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates the race “leans Republican” while the Real Clear Politics Average has Blunt up 10 points in what was only a month ago a race within the margin of error.

It is not surprising that the race has broken for Blunt in the final weeks. The rising national GOP tide, at least at this point, appears to be lifting all boats. What is impressive is the way Blunt has managed to convince Missourians that his status as a Washington “insider” would benefit them in the U.S. Senate. Given his close ties to Tom DeLay and alleged close dealings with shamed lobbyist Jack Abramhoff, this is no small feat.

For her part, Carnahan hasn’t abandoned campaigning on the changes delivered thus far by the Obama administration. She continues to support the unpopular healthcare reform law and stimulus packages passed by the Obama administration--a tactic that earns her points for loyalty to message but not, apparently, among Missouri voters.

To the mainstream media, the Missouri Senate race is perhaps one of the least sensational of the national races. The debates have focused on substantive, policy differences and views on the role of the federal government. Perhaps this race serves as a welcome reminder that politics is not Tabloid Theater.

Watch for Blunt to win the race, and his doing so will likely signal a good night for the GOP. Give both candidates credit, however, for running and managing good campaigns that are worthy of both of their established family names.

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