Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt Thursday announced his intention to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate, a move that sets up what is likely to be a showdown between two prominent families in one of the country’s most politically divided states.
Making the official announcement in St. Louis, Missouri, the former House Republican whip indicated he would run on a platform of keeping Democratic control of both Congress and the White House in check. “Common sense and open debate are in danger of being suppressed by the overreaching liberal monopoly in Congress and the White House,” he said, according to prepared remarks. “Never has Washington been in greater need of hearing from people who work hard, pay their taxes and want solutions to urgent economic problems and the ongoing threat of terrorism.” “My sense is Missourians and Americans are not well served by one-party rule,” Blunt also said, citing the massive stimulus measure signed by President Obama that won little Republican support.
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Blunt’s announcement comes two weeks after Democrat Robin Carnahan jumped into the race. Carnahan is another Missourian with prominent name recognition who enjoys widespread support. “The Missouri Senate race is shaping up to be one of the most competitive races of the cycle,” said Nathan Gonzalez, political editor of the Rothenberg Report. “It has attracted two of the biggest names of the state that has a history of closest elections.” Both Blunt and Carnahan are seeking the Senate seat set to be vacated by longtime Missouri Republican Kit Bond. Blunt, a six-term congressman representing the state’s conservative southwestern corner, is a longtime Missouri politician with high name recognition across the state and solid support among his party’s conservative base. He has run for statewide office several times during his nascent political career, having served as secretary of state for two terms before losing the Republican primary for governor in 1992. His son Matt also served as the state’s governor from 2005-2009, but ultimately decided not to seek another term because of low approval ratings. Blunt faces a state that has become increasing Democratic in the last several election cycles. The state’s other Senate seat went Democratic in 2006 with Claire McCaskill’s narrow win, and Democrat Jay Nixon was elected governor of the state in 2008. But Republicans still hold edges in the state’s House and Senate chambers and have a majority of the state’s nine congressional seats. While Blunt is likely to enjoy the support of the party’s establishment, he could face a competitive primary challenge from former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, a vocal critic of her party’s leadership who narrowly lost a bruising primary bid for governor last year. Even though she is not particularly popular in her party, Steelman’s message of reform could resonate if the GOP’s national approval ratings remain low throughout the next two years. “Republicans would like to avoid a primary in the Senate race, but she’s not the kind of person they will be able to just shove out of a race,” Gonzalez said. “She relishes in being in an outsider role.” But should Blunt make it to a general election facing Carnahan, the race will likely become a hard-fought and high-profile battle of two powerful political names. Carnahan’s father, Mel, served as governor of the state from 1993-2000 and died in a plane crash while running for the U.S. Senate. Carnahan still won the seat, defeating then-Republican Sen. John Ashcroft, and Carnahan’s wife Jean held the post for two years. Carnahan’s brother is also a U.S. congressman representing the outskirts of St. Louis. But national Democrats are eager for a match-up against Blunt, who was a protégé to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and has been linked to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. “As one of the faces of the same old Republican Party, Roy Blunt enters this race with a whole lot of baggage and a whole lot of questions to answer,” said Eric Schultz, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s communication’s director. Democrats will also highlight Blunt’s stalwart support of former President Bush, especially when it comes to economic policies. “I’d hate to be him, and explaining my votes on the Bush positions,” DSCC chairman Bob Menendez said of Blunt last week. “They got their ideas into law. It created one of the worst economies I have ever seen.”