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Chuck Purgason embraces outsider status in Senate bid

(photo by Marshall Griffin, St. Louis Public Radio)
Chuck Purgason

By Marshall Griffin, St. Louis Public Radio


Jefferson City, Mo. – Republicans in Missouri will decide next week who they want to replace Senator Kit Bond, who's leaving Washington after 24 years.

Congressman Roy Blunt has led in most polls over Democrat Robin Carnahan, but another longtime Republican is in the race, too: Chuck Purgason.

But Purgason has had trouble gaining traction among his party's voters.

He tossed his hat in the ring more than a year ago, but he still remains a long shot against Blunt. He's spent several years in the Missouri House and Senate. And he recently got a bit of free publicity when he tried to kill an auto incentives bill by speaking against it for more than 20 hours on the Senate floor. But most Republican voters in a recent survey said they'd never heard of him.

Purgason, though, is confident he'll win.

"I understand what I'm up against, but I also understand that the majority of people out there are not happy with the status quo, they're not happy with the debt that's being piled on their children, and the silent majority is who I'm going after and I think will show up on August third," Purgason said.

Purgason says he wants to balance the federal budget and help the private sector create jobs. He backs Arizona's new illegal immigration law and supports building a fence along the U.S.-Mexican border. He's pro-life on abortion, and he supports Proposition C, the ballot question designed to block Missouri's participation in the new federal health care law.

Despite these views, the Missouri Republican Party hasn't thrown its support behind Purgason. They haven't officially endorsed anyone in the primary, and they would not talk to us about his candidacy. That hasn't stopped Purgason from campaigning across the state.

"If we as Republicans had done our job from 2000 to 2006, Reid, Pelosi and Obama would still be sitting in a minority party because we would have shown what real conservatism is, and we would still be driving the agenda in Washington," Purgason told those at a GOP cookout at Carondelet Park in St. Louis on Sunday. And most of the crowd liked what they heard, including St. Louis resident Maria Duffy-Wood.

"I like some of Chuck's experience, his work especially in the last week of putting his effort in (the) filibuster Roy Blunt is well-known, and I think he's got a really good chance to win," Duffy-Wood said.

Frieda Keough of Kirkwood is in the same boat.

"Blunt has always been part of the problem, so I'm not quite sure how he can now be part of the solution," Keough said. "I wish Purgason had better name recognition."

Purgason is also way behind in raising money. At the end of June, his campaign had just over $32,000 in the bank, compared to Blunt's $8 million-plus war chest.

Purgason has been endorsed by conservative icon Joe the Plumber, some Tea Party groups and a handful of fellow State Senators. Marvin Overby is a Political Science professor at the University of Missouri - Columbia. He says that's not enough.

"He hasn't been able to get an endorsement from someone like a Sarah Palin on the record. That's the kind of endorsement he would have needed to sort of spark this campaign," Overby said.

Overby says even if such a major endorsement were to happen today, it would come too late to be of much help.

"I don't generally put money on political races, but if I were putting any money on this one, I would bet that Roy Blunt is going to be the Republican nominee," Overby said.

And Blunt appears to be taking Purgason for granted. He campaigns against Democrat Robin Carnahan and never mentions Purgason by name.

But Purgason doesn't seem bothered by it. The man who quit wearing a toupee after turning 50 in May and who wears bolo ties and cowboy boots on the Missouri Senate floor continues to embrace the role of the outsider as he runs for the U.S. Senate.


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