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With Aug. 3 primary looming, GOP candidates use Prop C to attract support

Missouri's major candidates for the U.S. Senate are no longer ignoring Proposition C, with the Republicans in particular seeing the health-care measure as a way to attract last-minute support among conservatives in next Tuesday's primary.

U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Springfield, has announced his campaign website now features a petition in favor of Proposition C -- dubbed by supporters as the Health Care Freedom Act. The proposal seeks to exempt Missouri from some of the mandates in the new federal health-care law, particularly the 2014 requirement that all Americans must be insured.

Blunt's chief rival, state Sen. Chuck Purgason , R-Caulfield, was in St. Louis on Saturday to join the "Last Push for Prop C Rally/Lit Drop" slated from noon to 2 p.m. at the corner of Brentwood Boulevard and Manchester Road. Purgason was among the legislators who helped get Proposition C on the ballot.

Saturday's rally location also happens to be in front of the regional office of U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, a strong supporter of the new federal health-care law. A spokeswoman said the congressman believes the law will expand access to health care to more Missourians. 

The congressman's sister, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan -- the best-known Democrat running for the U.S. Senate -- also has touted her general support for federal health-care law, but has not gotten involved in the Proposition C debate. 

However, her campaign spokesman issued a statement Thursday that indicated Robin Carnahan was cool to Proposition C -- although it didn't come right out and say so.

"If the issue is approved by the voters, there is some question about what would be the practical implication since it would be an issue of state law pre-empting federal law," said Carnahan spokesman Linden Zakula.

"But when it comes to this issue in general, as a breast cancer survivor she takes the issue of health care very personally, and thinks it makes a lot more sense to fix the things that still need fixing instead of repealing the entire bill, or opting out, and going back to insurance companies making out like bandits and denying coverage for people with pre-existing conditions."

The campaign confirmed later that Carnahan does plan to vote against Proposition C.

The Carnahan campaign's careful response exemplifies how most area Missouri Democrats -- including the state Democratic Party -- have opted against a full-blown campaign against Proposition C, even while citing the possible legal questions.

Democratic activist Kurt Neumann says he is organizing a "Vote No for Prop C" rally today at 4:30 p.m., at the intersection of Skinker Boulevard and Clayton Road, in a last-minute effort to underscore that at least some Democrats are willing to oppose the proposal publicly.

But the Missouri Republican Party is leaving no doubt where it stands. The party paid for a statewide robo-call, which began Thursday, featuring Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder. He tells listeners, "Prop C will protect your right to make your own health-care decisions" and warns of dire consequences in the measure fails to pass.

Blunt said Saturday that he had long favored Proposition C, even before the Legislature voted to put it on the August ballot.

The upshot of the strong GOP push for Proposition C is that both major parties, publicly or privately, admit that Republicans are likely to cast a majority of the ballots on Tuesday.

The pro-Proposition C effort has some similarities to the unofficial state GOP campaign in August 2004 to use a ballot measure against same-sex marriage to whip up enthusiasm among conservatives. Besides resulting in a hefty margin for the ban, the effort also is credited with energizing Republicans for the November election.

This time, the only major group publicly raising questions about Proposition C is the Missouri Hospital Association, which acknowledges spending at least $300,000 to mail four fliers in the past couple weeks to tens of thousands of potential voters around the state.

The fliers warn of possible cost hikes for people with insurance if Proposition C passes. Declares the most recent association mailing: "So the question is: Should Missourians who already pay for health insurance also have to pay for those who choose not to pay?

"If you think it's acceptable that some who can afford insurance get a free ride, vote yes on Proposition C," the flyer continues. "If you think that's unfair, you should vote no."

Speakers at a pro-Proposition C rally earlier this week attacked the association for what was viewed as a last-minute campaign to defeat the measure.

But, in a stance similiar to Carnahan, association spokesman Dave Dillon said in an interview that the group isn't an out-and-out opponent of Proposition C.

"What we are doing is educating the public'' about what is likely to happen if Proposition C passes and wins the expected court fight, Dillion said.

Hospital charges for average Missourians are likely to go up, he said, in order to cover the hospitals' estimated additional costs of $50 million a year to cover treatment for uninsured Missourians who show up in the emergency room.

By law, hospitals must provide care for anyone who shows up with a life-threatening illness or injury.

"Are we telling people they should vote 'No?' " Dillon said. "No, we are not."

Besides Prop C, the only other major statewide battle on Tuesday involves the Republican contest for state auditor between state Rep. Allen Icet and St. Louis lawyer and former Bush official Tom Schweich (right). 

(Read the Beacon's broader overview of the contest: In GOP contest for state auditor, Icet and Schweich both tap into anti-Obama mood )

With few days left to sway voters, both candidates -- close in the latest independent poll -- are deploying robo-calls featuring their biggest-name backers.

Icet is touting his support from former U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, the unsuccessful GOP nominee for governor in 2008. Schweich has launched a robo-call blitz featuring former U.S. Attorney General (and former Gov. and Sen.) John Ashcroft and former UN Ambassador John Bolton.

In the GOP contest for the U.S. Senate, independent polls have indicated that Blunt is a heavy favorite over Purgason and seven other lesser-known rivals. However, Purgason was circulating late Friday a poll that he had commissioned that portrayed him in a strong position heading into Tuesday's vote.

Robin Carnahan has two little-known rivals in the Democratic primary, neither of whom has campaigned.

For Blunt and Carnahan, their key aim Tuesday -- besides winning -- is to win by large percentages. The Senate candidate with the strongest showing in their primary will assert that it's a signal of their overall standing among Missouri voters.

But the turnout projection for Tuesday's primary is low: 24 percent.

Carnahan's staff reported earlier this week that local election officials around the state are reporting wildly different estimates, from only 10 percent in Kansas City to more than 70 percent in some rural counties. The estimates in the St. Louis area range from 19 percent in the city of St. Louis to slightly higher in the suburban counties.

The St. Louis region also features a number of local primaries, including contests for three congressional posts, five state Senate seats, 22 House seats, the county executive post in Jefferson County, the 5th District post on the St. Louis County Council and a combative contest for circuit clerk in the city of St. Louis.

(Click here for the Beacon's look at four of the Senate contests and the Jefferson County race.) 

St. Louis County also has a ballot proposal to change the assessor job from an appointed post to an elected one. The council put the matter on the ballot at the behest of County Executive Charlie Dooley, who wanted county voters to weigh in on the matter before the state's voters do so in November.

(For more background on the assessor issue, read Dooley calls for August vote to make county assessor an elected post  and St. Louis County Council gives final approval to putting assessor issue on Aug. 3 ballot.)

Area Republicans who are pressing for an elected assessor include lawyer Bill Corrigan, who is challenging Dooley in the fall and already running TV spots, and state Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, a sponsor of the statewide proposal.

On Thursday, county voters began receiving robo-calls from Schmitt that lobby in favor of an elected county assessor.

Also in the county, voters who reside in the County Council's 5th District, which takes in central and southern parts of the county, will select nominees for the seat to be vacated by Democrat Barbara Fraser, who is running for the state Senate.

Two Democrats are competing for their party's nomination: former Webster Groves Mayor Terri Williams and former Richmond Heights Councilman Pat Dolan, who also is president of Local 268 of the Sprinkler Fitters union. Dolan, who has a number of endorsements from politicians and unions, has raised and spent far more money.

The victor will face Republican Randy Jotte, a former member of the Webster Groves City Council, in the fall.

Of Missouri's 163 state House seats on this year's ballots, 62 are in the St. Louis area. And 15 of the region's House incumbents can't run for re-election this year because of term limits.

That backdrop helps explain why more than a third -- 22 -- of the region's House seats have contested primaries on Tuesday's ballot.

There are 14 competitive Democratic primaries and 11 involving Republicans. In nine -- six Democratic and three Republican -- next Tuesday's victor will automatically snag the seat in November because no other parties have put up candidates.

Only three area House districts have primaries in both major parties next Tuesday, reflecting the political polarization that also affects many of the region's state Senate seats.

Here's a sampling of some of the hottest contests:

--In St. Louis 57th District, state Rep. Hope Whitehead faces another challenge by Karla May, a Democratic activist who lost to Whitehead in last February's special election prompted by the indictment of then-incumbent T.D. El-Amin on federal charges related to bribery. This time, May has several key endorsements, including that of Mayor Francis Slay.

-- In the city's 64th District, four Democrats and two Republicans are vying for their parties' nominations to replace incumbent Rachel Storch, who has opted against seeking re-election because she has married and is moving to the East Coast.

The four Democrats in the Democratic-leaning district are: Amy Hilgemann (wife of Storch's predecessor, Bob Hilgemann), lawyer Susan Carlson (backed by Storch and Slay), David Leipholtz and Daniel Schesch. The Republican contenders are Patricia Verde and Damien Johnson.

-- In St. Louis County's 71st District, three Democrats are competing to succeed incumbent Don Calloway, who is running for the state Senate. They are: lawyer Kris Boevingloh, Democratic activist Clem Smith and restaurant owner Henry Iwenofu.

-- In St. Louis County's 72nd District, three Democrats are vying to succeed incumbent Maria Chappelle-Nadal, who also is running for the state Senate. The three are: Richard Dockett, Sandi Colquitt and Rory Ellinger.

-- In the 73rd District, Democratic incumbent Stacey Newman faces two rivals: Stephen Findley and Paul Kieselhorst. Newman had won the seat in a special election last fall, after Democrat Steve Brown had to step down after pleading guilty to a federal felony charge.

-- In the 79th District, the battle has been fierce between two Democrats -- Mary Nichols and Byron DeLear -- for the open seat that had been held by Al Liese. Two Republicans also are competing for the job: Dan Johnson and Kyle Bone.

-- In the open 80th District seat, three Democrats are seeking succeed retiring Rep. Ted Hoskins, who is running for the state Senate. The three are: Sylvester Taylor II, Teona McGhaw-Boure and Gloria Hardrict-Ewing.

-- In the 97th District in south St. Louis County, three Democrats and four Republicans are battling for nominations to succeed Republican Walt Bivins. The candidates are: Democrats Rudy Pulido, Jim Barrett and Jan Polizzi, and Republicans Gary Fuhr, Chris Brown, Jerry Little and William Zobrist.

In St. Louis, the hottest contest involves city Circuit Clerk Mariano Favazza, (left)a Democrat who is challenged in the primary by lawyer Jane Schweitzer, daughter-in-law of the late long-time city sheriff, Gordon Schweitzer.

Schweitzer has the support of many of the city's judges, who have tangled with Favazza for years. As a result, she has raised more campaign money.

Favazza, meanwhile, has had spats with city Democratic leaders ever since he first ran for the job in 1998. He made an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2004 and often has backed renegade Democrats in other city contests -- again frequently raising the ire of top city Democrats.

Favazza and Schweitzer have most recently traded jabs over state Auditor Susan Montee's recent audit of the office. To read more about the race, read the Beacon's account of Mayor Francis Slay's decision to campaign for Schweitzer.

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beaocn.

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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