In The Missouri Senate Race, Who's The Insider?
LINDA WERTHEIMER, Host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
NPR's David Welna reports.
DAVID WELNA: Congressman Roy Blunt was on his home turf the other day, leading a rally at the GOP headquarters in Springfield, Missouri. His message: Democrats in Washington cannot be trusted.
WERTHEIMER: You've got a government who one, doesn't care what you think and two, the reason they don't care what you think is they don't think we're smart enough to have an opinion. And Missourians are fed up with it.
WELNA: Later, Blunt bridles when I ask whether he's a Washington insider.
WERTHEIMER: You know, you're going to have to figure it out. I just don't think Robin Carnahan is a person who can say, we need somebody new - and that's me. You know, I'm the first person in my family to ever graduate from college. My mom and dad were dairy farmers. If you think that's an establishment candidate, I think you're just not thinking through this the way Missourians do.
WELNA: Missouri State political scientist George Connor calls Blunt the ultimate Washington insider. But that matters far less, he says, than Blunt's ability to stoke resentment toward Democrats in a swing state that two years ago, chose John McCain over Barack Obama.
INSKEEP: We have become more conservative in the last two years, in response to what they've seen in Washington, D.C. - the health-care reforms that we don't like, the bailouts that we don't like. And so I think nothing that's happened in Washington has helped the Democrats here in Missouri.
WELNA: Last week, Blunt unveiled a new TV ad. It seeks to tie Carnahan to the stimulus package championed by President Obama, which also gave Carnahan's brother $107 million for a wind farm in Missouri.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
U: They promised jobs. Instead, we got generations of debt. Where did our money go?
U: Ask Robin Carnahan. Her brother's wind farm got over 100 million stimulus dollars.
U: How? Robin Carnahan campaigned for Obama and the stimulus.
WELNA: Carnahan herself flatly rejects the suggestion her brother got a big grant because she, as Missouri's secretary of state, backed the stimulus. In an interview, she says Blunt's tried making this race about President Obama, who is deeply unpopular in Missouri. She insists it's about whom people can trust as their next senator.
WERTHEIMER: So this race is really about whether there's going to be someone who ultimately, is able to speak for them, or somebody who's been in Washington - like congressman Blunt, for 14 years - and who has just gotten too cozy with the business as usual out there, and is too tied in with the lobbyists and special interests, I think, to really look out for us.
WELNA: Carnahan has tried driving that message home in a series of negative ads, including this country-western ditty.
(SOUNDBITE OF AD)
U: (Singing) The way to spell corruption is B-L-U-N-T. Roy Blunt is the very worst of Washington, D.C.
WERTHEIMER: I'm Robin Carnahan. I'm running for the Senate, and I approved this message.
WELNA: That message might work better, says University of Missouri campaign expert Elizabeth Miller, had Carnahan not had a father who was governor, a mother who's been a senator, and another brother who's a congressman.
INSKEEP: Because Carnahan is part of this - sort of political dynasty, so to speak, in Missouri, she doesn't have the ability to use Roy Blunt's Washington insider characteristic against him.
U: What can I help you with, young lady?
U: I'd like a sliced pork sandwich.
WELNA: At Arthur Bryant's barbecue in Kansas City, the line for smoked-meat sandwiches stretches out the door. While waiting, engineer Steven Folts(ph) says he voted for President Obama two years ago but this time, Roy Blunt may get his vote.
WERTHEIMER: Ms. Carnahan is just kind of riding on the coattails, and I don't think she really deserves to be there.
WELNA: And what about Roy Blunt? He's been in Washington.
WELNA: Is that a plus or a minus for you?
WERTHEIMER: Probably a minus, but I think he's kind of the lesser of two evils here.
WELNA: And 84-year-old Ruth Watts, who's a Republican, may not vote at all.
WERTHEIMER: I'm so sick and tired of those ads. I really don't want to vote for either one, almost.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
WELNA: David Welna, NPR News.
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Correction Oct. 12, 2010
In early on-air versions, we said GOP Senate candidate Roy Blunt had once been the governor of Missouri. He was not; he ran once and lost in the primary. It was Blunt’s son, Matt, who was once Missouri’s governor.