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Blunt disputes insider label as he takes on Carnahan and Steelman

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 21, 2009 - In his quest for the U.S. Senate in 2010, U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt appears to have shifted his target from potential Republican rival Sarah Steelman to the only declared Democrat, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan.

In his Saturday address to members of the Republican State Committee, Blunt announced that he plans to call Carnahan on Monday and ask her to agree to "three televised opportunities" this year to highlight their differing views on the issues.

"I've got the most transparent voting record in the history of the U.S. Congress,'' said Blunt, R-Strafford, as he pointed to his Web site, which lists every vote since he joined the U.S. House in 1997.

"I'll go anywhere, and anytime to talk about anything Robin Carnahan wants to,'' Blunt said, drawing cheers from the committee and other Republican activists. Saturday's gathering was part of the party's weekend Lincoln Days festivities in Kansas City.

His aim, in part, is to paint Carnahan as being aligned with the "Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Barack Obama liberal agenda."

Blunt's other task: To make clear that he is not.

In his Saturday afternoon speech, the former whip in the U.S. House cited his "100 percent pro-life record...100 percent NRA record” as he challenged the attempts by Carnahan and Steelman to paint him as a Washington insider.

In Carnahan's case, Blunt was reacting to her comments in Jefferson City last week that he "will have some things to answer for ... he's been in leadership at a time when our country has gotten into a pretty big financial mess...''

Blunt replied, "This is not about how long I've been there." He then recounted a sampling of the Democrats who've been in Washington far longer than his 12 years.

Blunt said his point was that it was more important to focus on the views he had embraced while he was in Congress, and the life he had lived before he got there.

Compared to Carnahan, he said, "I have more experience as a teacher. I have more experience as a college president. I have more experience as a secretary of state."

Carnahan campaign consultant Tony Wyche didn't let up on her line of attack. "Roy Blunt needs to worry more about his likely primary opponent than in reverting to the tired, Washington-insider style political games he played during his years in the Republican leadership," Wyche said Saturday.

Wyche added that the time to talk to Carnahan about televised debates was after both had dealt with their primaries in August 2010.

At Friday's opening-night banquet, Blunt did focus on Steelman, a former state treasurer who lost a bid for governor in last year's GOP primary. She says she's likely to challenge Blunt in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat to be  vacated by incumbent Republican Christopher "Kit" Bond, who's retiring.

Steelman also has jabbed at Blunt's Washington tenure, which she says has contributed to the nation's financial troubles. Steelman has deparaged Blunt as "just another white guy in a suit."

Friday night, Blunt disputed that characterization by recounting his modest childhood upbringing. His boyhood home, he said, had no running water; he was the first member of his family to attend college.

Blunt's overarching message: That he's an up-from-the-bootstraps achiever who has had nothing handed to him.

State House Speaker Ron Richard, R-Joplin, agrees “I'm firmly, convincingly, unabashedly for Roy Blunt,'' Richard said.

His message also played well with Kurt and Celeste Witzel, the Republican committeeman and committeewoman for Oakville Township in south St. Louis County. "He's genuine. He's not a phony," Celeste Witzel said.

Added her husband, who also sits on the state GOP committee: "Roy is right in line with the people of the state of Missouri."

But Judy Zakibe, Republican Party chairwoman in the city of St. Louis, said she does have concerns about Blunt's chances if he's the party's Senate nominee in 2010. "I think he'll have a difficult time beating Carnahan,'' Zakibe said. "I think the state wants somebody who's not from Washington."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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