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Democrats and GOP eye two congressional challengers: Sowers and Martin

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 16, 2009 - While area Republicans are crowing about St. Louis lawyer Ed Martin's strong fundraising numbers in his congressional quest, Democrats are abuzz about the hefty warchest reported by one of their U.S. House hopefuls, Tommy Sowers of Rolla.

Both men are challenging well-known incumbents. Martin's target is U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis. For Sowers, it's U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau.

Sowers reported $189,347 in the bank, which is slightly more than Emerson's campaign account of  $186,394. Sowers' report showed he had raised $204,510 and spent $15,163. She has raised  $368,090 and spent $253,948. (Campaign figures don't always add up in the reports for various reasons, particularly if -- as in Emerson's case -- cash is carried over from previous campaigns.)

Emerson, 59, has held the seat since 1996. Her late husband, Bill Emerson, was the congressman from 1981-96. Although generally conservative, Emerson is known as a maverick -- especially on health care issues, where she has at times split with the GOP.

She and Sowers note that the 8th congressional district -- which takes in southeast Missouri, including the Bootheel -- is among the poorest in the country, with about a quarter of the residents earning below the federal poverty line. It also has a high percentage of elderly residents, which means a hefty population who rely on Medicare.

Sowers, 33, is an Army veteran with tours of duty in Iraq and Kosovo. He now teaches in the History and Political Science Department at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, his hometown.

But more importantly for Democrats, Sowers also is a native and known in Rolla. His family used to own the Rolla Daily News.

Sowers said in a telephone interview Friday that he is running for Congress because he's concerned about the economic decline in the 8th District that is particularly hurting the smaller communities. He has been traveling the state to meet with residents and says he's hearing from a lot of people who are "angry and frustrated."

He said his campaign hopes to get beyond the usual back and forth over the social issues -- abortion, guns, gay rights -- that often figure into Missouri elections. As a result, Sowers declined for the moment to discuss his stands on those matters.

Emerson's staff had yet to reply late Friday.

Martin, a staunch social conservative, has been very outspoken on all issues, fiscal and social, since he launched his campaign a few weeks ago.

Martin's report showed that, as of Sept. 30,  he had $201,535, spent $10,167, with $191,368 in the bank.

Carnahan's tallies: Raised $357,188 ($163,966 during the report's three-month period), spent $258,111 ($70,913.05 during the period), with $254,337 in the bank.

Said Martin in a jubilant e-mail statement Thursday: “This is just the beginning of our challenge to Congressman Carnahan, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the out-of-control Congress that is jeopardizing our future and the future of our children and grandchildren.”

“The people of this district are fed up over job losses, crushing debt, giant government, and the reckless spending that Russ Carnahan is rubber stamping for Nancy Pelosi,” Martin added.

As of late Friday, Carnahan's campaign declined to reply.

There's no question that Martin and Sowers outraised all other congressional challengers in  other eastern Missouri congressional districts.  Political activists in both parties now will be watching to see whether Martin and Sowers can maintain their momentum beyond their first set of campaign-finance reports, particularly against the veteran political operations run by Emerson and Carnahan.

--- Other Incumbents Display Fundraising Strengths

Here's the numbers for the St. Louis area's three other incumbents:
Wlliam Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis: Raised $235,041, spent $119,638, with $301,354 in the bank.

Todd Akin, R-Town and Country: Raised $272,566, spent $130,323, with $732,236 in the bank. 

Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth: Raised $483,839, spent $176,243, with $324,402 in the bank. He has a campaign debt of $1.55 million.

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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