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Government, Politics & Issues

Tea Party's Hartzler defeats Skelton while Carnahan appears to defeat Martin

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 3, 2010 - U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton, D-4th District and the dean of Missouri's congressional delegation, conceded defeat to Tea Party-backed Vicky Hartzler. The powerful chair of the House Armed Services Committee was first elected to Congress in 1976, so his defeat is a signal accomplishment for Tea Party Republicans.

Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, also is in a close race with Republican Ed Martin, former chief of staff to Gov. Matt Blunt. Carnahan was 4,500 votes ahead of Martin out of 200,000 cast. Only two precincts remained uncounted. Martin told Beacon freelancer Puneet Kollipara early Wednesday that he would not rule out a recount.

Both Carnahan and Skelton won re-election two years ago by huge majorities. They faced candidates who linked their fortunes to the discontent symbolized by the Tea Party movement.

Carnahan and Skelton had steered much different courses in Washington. Skelton voted against President Barack Obama's health-care bill, repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and against abortion rights. Carnahan voted for the health-care law, for the stimulus bill and for a controversial cap-and-trade measure attacking global warming.

Carnahan's votes made it easy for Martin to portray him as an Obama clone. Hartzler took much the same tack, claiming that Skelton voted 95 percent of the time with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Skelton stressed his service to the district and the power of his seniority on military affairs. Skelton has protected the district's military installations at Whiteman Air Force Base and Fort Leonard Wood. Hartzler maintained, however, that Skelton did not pay enough attention to the farmers in the largely rural district.

The Carnahan-Martin race took on a nasty edge as the election approached. Carnahan accused Martin of corruption for his involvement in keeping Blunt administration emails secret. Martin filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission claiming that the Carnahan campaign had been involved in a website that accused Martin of not having done enough in priest sex abuse cases when he worked for the Archdiocese. Carnahan's campaign denied involvement in the website.

Martin stressed his support for gun rights in billboards in rural areas of the district.

Spirits were high at Martin's election night watch party even though he trailed. The crowd at the Drury Inn at Interstate 44 and Hampton Ave., cheered when Martin won Ste. Genevieve County. "This election is about the future of the country and the future of our district," Martin told the crowd, "but it's mostly about people -- mostly people who are hurting, who are anxious about the future," Martin said.

Hartzler grew up on a farm in rural Cass County where her family raised corn, soybeans, wheat, hogs and cattle.  She says on her website that she "learned the principles of hard work, commitment, perseverance, and courage" from her childhood on the farm.

Hartzler graduated summa cum laude from the University of Missouri-Columbia in Education and Central Missouri State University with a M.S. in Education. She taught junior and high school family and consumer sciences for 11 years in Lebanon and Belton, Mo.

In 1994 she was elected state representative for Cass and Johnson Counties. She served in the House for six years where she pushed for legislation promoting adoption, education, and lowering taxes. 

Skelton has represented Missouri's 4th congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1977. He was elected to Congress the same year that Rep. Richard A. Gephardt was first elected to Congress from St. Louis.

Skelton's district includes Missouri's state capital, Jefferson City, and much of the Ozarks. The northernmost part of the 4th District includes Ray County, located north of the Missouri River. The southernmost point of the district is Webster County, only 30 miles from the Arkansas border.

Skelton, a native of Lexington, is a graduate of Wentworth Military Academy and the University of Missouri at Columbia where he received A.B. and L.L.B. degrees. He was named as a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the Law Review. Prior to his election to Congress, Skelton served as Lafayette County prosecuting attorney and as a Missouri state senator.

A leader in the House on defense issues, Skelton is the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Skelton's district is home to Fort Leonard Wood, Whiteman Air Force Base and the Missouri National Guard Training Center. Skelton was instrumental in bringing the Army Engineer School to Fort Leonard Wood and the B-2 Stealth bomber to Whiteman.

As most of the 4th Congressional District is comprised of small towns and farming communities, Skelton looks after the needs of rural America. He is a former chairman of the Small Business Subcommittee on Procurement, Tourism and Rural Development and the Congressional Rural Caucus.

Skelton is an Eagle Scout, a member of Sigma Chi social fraternity, a Lions Club member, and vice chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation. Skelton is an elder of the First Christian Church in Lexington. He and his late wife Susie have three sons. Skelton married Patricia Martin in 2009.

Waiting for Rep. Carnahan in the ballroom at the Renaissance Hotel on election night was one unexpected gift -- a cake with seven stars and the words, "Go Russ! From Terri Odom."

Odom is a disabled veteran from the Gulf War, having served in both the Army and Navy. Asked about the cake while she and a few others waited in the ballroom for the program to start, Odom said, "Russ Carnahan has moved mountains for veterans. He has been very outspoken on our behalf."

Odom, who appeared in some of Carnahan's campaign commercials, says she was grateful that Carnahan took a stand in response to disclosures about veterans being potentially exposed to Hepatitis B and C and HIV because the Cochran VA hospital was doing a poor job in sterilizing equipment.

Odom said she was "emotionally affected" by the incident but so far had suffered no medical side effects.

"Some people just don't realize Congressman Carnahan has taken the leadership by stepping up the plate for us," she said. "Giving him a cake is the least I could do."

Beacon reporters Rob Koenig, Robert Joiner and freelance writer Puneet Kollipara contributed to this report.

William H. Freivogel is director of the school of journalism at the University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale. 

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