Tuesday, December 7, 2010

US Senate Race and Unity Candidates

The 2012 US Senate race in Missouri is already heating up. Senator Claire McCaskill's comment over the weekend that it may really be time for Americans to take up pitchforks is an early indication that the battle lines are drawn. And it looks to be a closely fought race. Public Policy Polling has found the Missouri Senate Race to be within a point or two:
McCaskill leads Sarah Steelman by 1 point (45-44) in a hypothetical match up and trails Jim Talent and Peter Kinder each by 2 points in them (47-45 and 46-44 respectively,) all results well within the poll’s margin of error.
As of today, Steelman is the only candidate that's announced that she's running. She's trying to position herself as the Tea Party candidate; however, as I wrote last Friday, Sarah Steelman has not yet earned the title. I like the fact that she's not hand-picked by the party, but she hasn't earned my vote yet.

With the election behind us and the next one almost two years away, Steelman will be a popular guest on political radio shows across Missouri. She made two appearances on St. Louis stations today. Both Mark Reardon and Dana Loesch interviewed her (audio at the links). Reardon offered a post interview commentary that was pretty harsh. In my opinion, too harsh. Steelman's radio interview skills are weak. I think it's that the cadence of her responses are slower than a radio audience expects, so I think Reardon was being unkind in saying that she lacked substance. Yes, it was boilerplate conservative talking points, but do you really expect actionable policy recommendations two years out? That said, Reardon's point that "the quality of your candidate matters," is absolutely correct.

Jeremy Jacobs of the National Journal's Hotline on Call thinks that Steelman will need Tea Partiers in a primary battle with Talent:
Garnering Tea Party support will be crucial for Steelman, if she faces a primary against Talent. And it's clear she is courting them. Steelman spokesman Jeff Layman pointed to Steelman's history of opposing earmarks and said that Steelman "is one of the early heroes of the Tea Party movement."
While I appreciate the link and reference to my first article on Steelman, again, what has she done that's made her a hero of the Tea Party? What I see happening here is the Tea Party (ostensibly Steelman) being pitted against the establishment GOP (ostensibly Talent). Since Talent has taken a four year hiatus from running for office, he still has a reasonable shot to be the Tea Party candidate if he plays his cards right.

Returning to the poll above. PPP also polled a Peter Kinder vs. Claire McCaskill race. While everyone's assuming (rightly, I believe) that Kinder will run for governor, I think he'd be an interesting candidate for US Senate. Peter Kinder is a hero of the Missouri Tea Party movement because he brought a law suite against the federal government over the new healthcare law. In other words, Kinder draws his base of support from both the establishment GOP and the Tea Party movement. He's a sort of unity candidate. Again, I think he'll run for governor, but it's an interesting idea.

While the St. Louis Tea Party has the glamor of a major American city, the workhorses of the movement include the Tea Parties in neighboring counties. Two such Tea Parties are the Franklin County Patriots and the Jefferson County Tea Party. Jeremy Jacobs in that National Journal article mentioned above recognizes the importance of these other Tea Party groups:
James Harris, a Missouri Republican consultant who has worked for Steelman in the past, said the Tea Party movement could make the difference for Steelman both in the primary and the general election race with Sen. Claire McCaskill (D).

"We have a very strong and vibrant Tea Party movement in St. Louis and the collar counties," said Harris. "Jefferson County, for example, swung to the Republican side this year because of that movement."

Jefferson, the sixth largest county in the state, has been a traditional swing area where Republicans have to perform well to win statewide. Pres. Bush carried it by 600 votes in 2004 and Pres. Obama carried it by two percentage points in 2008.

What I think Jacobs (and Harris) are discounting is the contributions of GOP volunteers. Ed Martin got out 40 volunteers in Arnold (Jefferson County) on a rainy Saturday in early October. During the closing weeks of the campaign, Martin had a contingent of volunteers manning the phones from dawn til dusk.

The point being that the turn around in Jefferson County came about because of the work of both Tea Party and GOP volunteers. And that brings me to another unity candidate: Ed Martin. If he were to step into the US Senate race he would be the only candidate running that was endorsed by the St. Louis Tea Party. I think he'll run for Secretary of State, but we've got lots of time to speculate about the US Senate race against Claire McCaskill, so why not do just that?

Update: It's early in this US Senate race. Best of luck to all the candidates mentioned above as well as Chuck Purgason and Kristi Nichols (if they decide to run again).

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