Less than two weeks before Matt Blunt dropped his “I’m not seeking reelection” bombshell, he gathered his cronies at the posh Big Cedar Lodge south of Branson to plan the campaign strategy for his upcoming reelection battle.
Present at the meeting were top-tier staffers from his administration, media specialists, fundraisers, pollsters, communications specialists and ground-game organizers. There was no doubt in anyones mind: the meeting was the kickoff to his reelection campaign. Those present reported that the Governor was engaged, inquisitive and involved in every aspect of the planning. Prior to the meeting, Blunt had prerecorded video footage for his initial volley of campaign commercials that were to be rolled out before spring, with the goal of beating Nixon off the starting blocks with a couple of weeks of uncontested air time in which he could tout his ostensible “accomplishments” with no counter message.
The brainstorming session in the Ozarks turned over every rock they could find. The participants pored over internal polling data; they discussed initiative petitions currently making the rounds, keenly remembering the effects of 2006’s Amendment 2 (the stem cell initiative) and the influence of that initiative on other races.
During the meetings his message was honed: He would accentuate that he had turned around a $1 Billion inherited state debt to show three years of surplusses, that spending on education had been boosted, and that 90,000 new Missouri jobs had been created. He even planned to claim that he had transformed a broken health care system.
The messages crafted at the Big Cedar Lodge formed the foundation for the State of the State address he delivered on January 15.
Those in attendance were convinced that the message could be framed successfully, even though Jay Nixon would assail the governors record of kicking poor people off the Medicaid rolls, warn that the economy was shaky, and the education system was still lagging.
So what happened?
It wasn’t money – Blunt had a proven ability to rake in massive amounts of cash, and some people present thought he could take in as much as $20 million for his war chest. He had raised almost $10 million since being elected in 2004, although his campaign warchest was sitting at about $4 million, and he still needed to return $2.3 million in excess contributions. After the reimbursements were made, he and Nixon would be on a level playing field.
So again, what happened?
There are plenty of instances of wrongdoing to point to. Those who haven’t done anything wrong are not usually inclined to spend $89,000 in legal fees in a single quarter. You may recall that the Eckersley scandal broke in the last quarter. In case you have forgotten, Scott Eckersley was a staff attorney for the governor who was fired for having the temerity to tell Baby Guv he needed to follow the law and archive email, not delete, delete, delete. Of course, Baby Guv lashed out.
Or maybe the money he took from Jack Abramoff for his 2000 Secretary of State campaign has finally caught up with him?
Or did his pioneering work in vote caging catch up to him? When he was still Secretary of State, he instructed county election officials to provide him with lists of absentee voters, and then forwarded those names to Republican campaign operatives, and the GOP began contacting those voters. This ploy by a graduate of the Naval Academy disproportionately disenfranchised military personnel who were serving overseas in a time of war.
Or perhaps something came of the probe into his 2004 campaign for governor, when he used $48,000 of the public funds to run ads to encourage the citizenry to go to the polls. This scheme gave Blunt an unfair edge over his opponent, and allowed him to win by a nose.
Of course, there is the fact that former state representative Nathan Cooper was due to report to prison just days after Blunt’s announcement, and of course it is just a coincidence that Cooper hearing those doors slam behind him has now been delayed.
Could it be that Nathan is singing like a canary, and Matty B knows there is an indictment in his immediate future? Dare I hope?
Or could it be the fee office scandal? I’ve been waiting almost two years for an indictment on that mess. There is just no way that little arrangement among insiders was on the up-and-up.
Whatever the reason for his sudden one-eighty, there is one thing for sure – I’m not buying the whole “spend more time with my family” smokescreen. Unless he is trying to soak ’em up now before he goes to the federal pen for some corruption charge or another, and the wife goes back to Virginia from whence she came.