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UPDATED: NRA to back up Blunt, under fire from Democrats who call him 'corrupt'

In Missouri's increasingly bitter contest for the U.S. Senate, Republican Roy Blunt is bringing in some big guns while Democrat Robin Carnahan is countering with a big shot.

Blunt, a congressman from southwest Missouri, is traveling around outstate Missouri on Friday with top officials with the National Rifle Association as part of an apparent move to elevate the social-issue planks like gun rights that help energize conservative Republicans -- especially in rural Missouri.

Blunt also has announced another of his coalitions -- "Sportsmen for Blunt."

NRA spokeswoman Alexa Fritts said that the powerful gun-association wants to do all it can to help Blunt. "For the past 14 years, Roy Blunt has earned an 'A' rating from the NRA's Political Victory Fund (PVF) in every single election," Fritts said.

"Carnahan has never earned anything but an 'F' rating, for her longstanding history of opposing the Second Amendment," the spokeswoman added.

Carnahan says she has always backed responsible gun rights. But she has been a target of the NRA for more than a decade, ever since she helped lead the successful 1999 campaign against a statewide ballot measure to allow concealed weapons, known as Proposition B. The Legislature later enacted the measure on its own in 2003.

But the Prop B fight highlighted the huge rural-urban divide over such matters, which urban and suburban areas -- especially St. Louis and St. Louis County -- overwhelmingly opposing the concealed-carry measure. The lingering split may help explain why Blunt's NRA tour does not include stops in the St. Louis or Kansas City area.

Even so, the NRA spokeswoman said the association may conduct other campaign activities -- include ads -- on Blunt's behalf during the next two months.

Said Blunt in a statement this afternoon: "The right for law-abiding citizens to own firearms is an individual right guaranteed by our Constitution. I am pleased to have the support of the NRA and Missouri sportsmen from across the state who share my belief that the most basic right is the ability to defend yourself and your family. With the support of Second Amendment advocates and Missouri sportsmen, I will continue fighting to protect our Constitutional freedoms from any effort to diminish them whether it's Washington liberals, judges, judicial nominees, or anti-Second Amendment lobby groups like the one my opponent led."

Biden, Democratic attacks seek to rev up base

Carnahan, meanwhile, is hoping that Vice President Joe Biden will help her whip up Missouri Democrats -- and fatten her bank account -- by headlining a fundraising event.

Her campaign and Biden's office declined to confirm or comment on the particulars, spread by Republicans, that Biden will appear Oct. 7 in Springfield, Mo., Blunt's home turf.

News of Biden's and the NRA's visits come as the Missouri Democratic Party is attempting to help bolster Carnahan's renewed attack on Blunt's character by calling him "corrupt."

Such efforts, said one political science professor, are aimed at countering Blunt's success in labeling Carnahan as a "rubberstamp" of Democrats in Congress and the White House.

"The Blunt campaign has been more successful in defining the terms of the campaign," said George Connor, head of the political science department at Missouri State University.

State Democratic Party chairman Craig Hosmer, who also hails from Springfield, is helping to lead his party's push to change course.

Hosmer conducted a conference call today in which he resurrected questions about $500,000 in legal fees paid by Blunt's various campaign committees over the past five years.

Hosmer said one would be "hard-pressed to find another member of Congress" spending so much money on legal fees. Almost half was spent during 2008. "He went from spending 5 figures per year on legal services to a whopping $245,000 in 2008," the state Democratic Party said in a follow-up statement.

Hosmer cited Blunt's image as a reformer during his eight years as secretary of state from 1985-93, and asserted that -- when they're informed of his actions in Congress -- Missourians become "very upset with what he's become. Instead of being different, he's become what he said he detested."

Hosmer's assertions were intended to build on a conference call held Wednesday by Carnahan campaign manager Mindy Mazur, who repeated called Blunt "corrupt" because of his ties to big business, corporate lobbyists and discredited or convicted members of Congress.

Mazur cited the previously disclosed incident where Blunt came under fire for attempting to insert into law a provision aiding tobacco giant Philip Morris, who subsequently donated to Blunt.

Hosmer cited a case where Blunt inserted an congressional earmark on behalf of a California firm that also contributed to his campaign.

Both calls, in turn, highlight accusations that Carnahan also tosses against Blunt in her latest ad.

Blunt, Carnahan spar over legal fees, outsourcing

Carnahan's campaign said that it had determined via internal polling that people were swayed when they heard the accusations against Blunt.

Blunt's campaign replied that Carnahan is launching "wild and baseless assertions" because she is behind in the polls and is trying to distract voters from the issues that divide her and Blunt.

The congressman's hefty legal fees, a spokesman said, were necessary because "complying with ever-changing FEC and House rules can be expensive. And subpoenas -- even when served on 12 members of Congress, including Ike Skelton, by a celebrity attorney in a publicity stunt -- are serious business and require legal counsel," the spokesman added.

Blunt's campaign also has been countering with lobs against Carnahan's character and public career.

Blunt's camp accused Carnahan on Thursday of supporting outsourcing jobs during her post in the mid-1990s working for the Export-Import Bank. Her spokesman countered that it was Blunt who had a voting record in Congress of supporting the outsourcing of jobs.

Blunt's campaign also fired off a release accusing the Carnahan campaign of trying to keep the Biden event quiet because of her desire to downplay her White House ties.

At Missouri State, Connor said he doubted that the back and forth would influence undecided voters, although he observed, "there are fewer undecideds in this race."

Instead, he believes that the accusations -- particularly on Carnahan's side -- are aimed at energizing base voters.

Polls for months have shown that Republicans already are excited because they A) staunchly disagree with the Democrats running Washington and B) believe they have a chance to retake Congress.

Democrats, in turn, have been portrayed in many polls as disspirited or disinterested. Portraying Blunt as unacceptable, said Connor, is an effort to change that dynamic.

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon.

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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