MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Now, one of the Senate races we'll be watching this year is in Missouri. The Republican incumbent Kit Bond is retiring.
Every two years, Missouri keeps us up late on election night with a Senate race or a presidential race that always seems to go down to the wire. This year promises to be no different. The Democrat running for Bond's seat is Robin Carnahan. We'll hear about her tomorrow. But, today, the Republican who is the overwhelming favorite to win his party's nomination is Roy Blunt.
(Soundbite of applause)
Representative ROY BLUNT (Republican, Missouri): Thank you millions. It's great to be here.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Roy Blunt is a conservative, Republican Washington insider. He campaigns effectively and exhaustively. Last week I watched him campaign at the state convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Columbia, Missouri.
Rep. BLUNT: This is my 494th Missouri event in the Senate campaign. Well, obviously we're going to pass 500.
SIEGEL: Jeff Roe is a Republican campaign consultant based in Kansas City.
Mr. JEFF ROE (Republican Campaign Consultant): He has absolutely put this race on his back. He has put this race in play, person by person, parade by parade, board room by board room. And it's been him. I mean, he is, frankly, just a machine, politically.
SIEGEL: As for his insider status, it's not just that Roy Blunt is a seven-term veteran of the House, he is the former House Republican whip. For a short time, he was acting majority leader. What's more, his wife is a Washington lobbyist, back home in Missouri, two of his children are lobbyists and his son is a former governor.
Steve Glorioso is a Kansas City Democratic political consultant.
Mr. STEVE GLORIOSO (Democratic Political Consultant): He carries the baggage of having been part of the Bush years. And he is Washington. I mean, he's married to a lobbyist. He left his wife of many years to marry this Washington lobbyist. So I think there's - he has all the inherent problems of incumbents that you've seen around the country.
SIEGEL: And as a member of the House Republican leadership, Blunt helped rally support for what many Republicans consider the single worst piece of legislation of its time: the big bank bailout, the TARP.
Here he was touting its success back in 2008.
Rep. BLUNT: I'm looking forward to the next couple of weeks where we all get a chance to talk to the people we work for and the people of the country about what the final product really did, how it really protects taxpayers.
SIEGEL: When I spoke with Representative Blunt aboard his campaign bus in Columbia last week, I asked about the TARP.
(Soundbite of bus)
SIEGEL: It is a vote you regret? Do you stand by it? How do you square it with the rest of your...
Rep. BLUNT: Well, you know, I think when you look at my record, my record stands up pretty well as the person who always who's consistently voted for the lowest budget, who voted against the president's request in 2008 for more money for Fannie and Freddy, who voted against money for the auto companies. And the part of the TARP that I voted for has almost all been paid back now with interest. That was a short-term investment in the economy. The worst thing about that is it's been reported as somehow justification for this president's incredible deficits. It's not a deficit if the money is mostly all back within 18 months.
SIEGEL: You're a very experienced member of Congress, a Washington hand, you're an insider. How do you cast this as something other than, let's go back to what we were doing when the Republicans had control of the Congress? I was in on that, I want to be back in on it again.
Rep. BLUNT: Well, I think it's pretty clear, the last three years, that there's a big difference in the two parties. There's a big difference in what the parties are trying to accomplish. Certainly, the things we talked about today with the Veterans of Foreign Wars are things that I did accomplish as a legislator, but there are lots of other things I did too, like always support the lowest possible level of spending.
SIEGEL: Roy Blunt's campaign is well-funded. His campaigns typically are. Over the past decade, he's received over a half-million dollars from the oil and gas industries, according to the�website OpenSecrets. Democrats make much of the ample contributions he's received from Washington lobbyists. He is far ahead in polls of a crowded August GOP primary field.
If anyone comes close to a Tea Party approach in Missouri, it's Republican state senator Chuck Purgason, who was also at the VFW convention in Columbia. But Purgason's biggest splash so far was when he publicized his 50th birthday resolution to part with something that had been near and dear to him.
(Soundbite of convention)
State Senator CHUCK PURGASON (Republican, Missouri): It's kind of ironic that that's what gets the press.
SIEGEL: Well, it did get the press. You...
State Sen. PURGASON: I just wanted to look like you more.
(Soundbite of laughter)
SIEGEL: You took off the hairpiece.
State Sen. PURGASON: Yes sir. I think it's important that people have transparency.
SIEGEL: It seems unlikely that Purgason, even in his transparent, topless condition, can deprive Roy Blunt of the Republican nomination for Senate. Blunt campaigns on his experience and he's talking about security and counterterrorism, issues you can only master through experience in Washington.
(Soundbite of bus)
Rep. BLUNT: People are clearly concerned that we're not taking our enemies seriously, that we are in some level of denial about the threats we face as a country. There are 22 members on the House Intelligence Committee. I'm one of them. I can tell you those threats are real, and we need to be concerned about them. And those threats are all, most all from one likely source - and that's the extremist element in Islam.
SIEGEL: And you feel that the administration is soft on that...
Rep. BLUNT: I think the administration's very soft on that. And, you know, the president is very committed to be a citizen of the world. We need to be sure the president is also very focused on being the leader of the United States of America.
SIEGEL: Are you speaking of tone or substance of the administration on anti-terrorism?
Rep. BLUNT: Well, I think both tone and substance.
SIEGEL: State Senator Purgason, who's in the primary, is hopeful that Governor Palin will endorse him. Hasn't come through, but he's hopeful. How significant would that be? How much would that hurt the campaign in the primary?
Rep. BLUNT: Well, I think the primary is in good shape. We've got good support from almost all of Chuck Purgason's colleagues in the state senate. Sarah Palin's made a contribution to the campaign. She's obviously an important figure in American politics today and everybody would like to have her help.
SIEGEL: Do you regard the Tea Party Movement as something that's antagonistic to you as a longtime member?
Rep. BLUNT: I don't. I don't. I think we're going to do very well among members of the Tea Party Movement and I think we'll be able to keep those people energized not just up through election day, but just as importantly after election day, as we really do try to deal with the spending problems, with the focus problems, with the definition problems of the federal government.
SIEGEL: Representative Blunt, thank you very much for talking with us.
Rep. BLUNT: Great to be with you.
SIEGEL: Roy Blunt is neck and neck in the polls with the Democratic nominee for Senate. She is Missouri secretary of state and she's part of one of the state's most famous political families, Robin Carnahan. We'll hear about her and from her tomorrow.
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