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In summarizing for me the top priorities of the House Democratic Campaign Committee this year, Ronny Richardson pointed to four races in western Missouri and one in the north central part of the state.

H.D. 33, at the northern edge of Jackson County, has a rematch between incumbent Jerry Nolte and the Democrat who lost to him by only 150 votes in ’06, Terry Stone. It often happens that candidates lose their first race for office, but build their name recognition, and then manage to vault over the barrier on their second try. On the assumption that such will be his luck, Terry Stone isn’t so much running for office again as he is still running for that state rep seat. Ronny tells me Stone never really stopped running in the last two years.

If you headed straight out the top right corner of Jackson County into Ray County, you’d be in H.D. 36, where Democrat Barbara Lanning is challenging incumbent Bob Nance. It’s usually a Democratic district, but Nance sneaked in there in ’04 when the incumbent got careless about campaigning hard enough. In ’06, Nance was challenged by a weak opponent and prevailed 61.4 percent to 38.6. He’ll have no such cakewalk this time. Barbara Lanning is a longtime schoolboard member and realtor. Ronny says she is “smart, articulate, and solidly Democratic.”

In the Warrensburg area, southeast of K.C., are two more races where Democrats have high hopes that a seat will fall into Democratic hands. H.D. 120 is open because Shannon Cooper is term limited out. Kristi Kenney, the Democrat in the race, challenged Cooper in 2006 despite the fact that he was an incumbent with a hundred twenty thousand #$%@^&* dollars to bury her with. His incumbency and his cash advantage notwithstanding, he only beat her 55.9 percent to 44.1 percent. That’s a commendable showing for a beginner.

And this time around, her opponent, Scott Largent, had $3,930 at the end of the first quarter. No incumbency advantage and no money advantage for the Republican this year. Hmmm.

Directly above H.D. 120 in Johnson County is H.D. 121. This is an open seat because David Pearce (of automotive deer hunting fame), the Republican who held it, is running against Chris Benjamin for the state Senate. Jim Jackson is the Democrat in the race, and he is well known in the district as a former mayor of Warrensburg and a city council member. He has roots in the community as a small business owner. Ronny says he fits that district’s profile nicely.

The final race in this three-part series is H.D. 22 in north central Missouri. It’s right under McClanahan’s and Shively’s districts, encompassing Chariton and Randolph counties. The incumbent is Therese Sander, a wingnut of Calamity Jane Cunningham’s ilk. Sander did okay in the last couple of elections, winning with 53.5 percent and 54.2 percent, but she only did that well because she didn’t have a strong challenger. In 2006, her opponent was a young man of 24 or 25, with no roots in the community.

This year will be different. Gail Brown is a barbershop owner, a county commissioner, and a minister at three churches. Like Sander, he’s a Christian–but with a heart. He’s more conservative than many Democratic candidates (pro-life, for example), but that makes him a suitable fit for the district.

And what a workhorse. He kicked off his campaign last fall.

In all, then, Ronny Richardson, described two Democratic seats that will be tough to hold (McClanahan and Shively) and eleven seats we hope to put in D hands. Eleven. That number sounds oddly familiar. I think it’s maybe the number of seats Dems would need to take back the House. Not that I assume we’ll get every one of the eleven seats Ronny Richardson described, but we’ll get a lot of them. And some of those second tier races are bound to come through for us. Maybe Deb Lavender will get the Kirkwood seat, for example.

Here’s the thing that makes this year look so good. We’re playing offense. We have two seats where we’re playing defense, and oodles of them where we’re on the offense. And don’t think Jay’s lead in the governor’s race won’t help. That’s some kind of coattails he’s gonna have.