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HD 24 in Columbia (the southern third of Boone County) is going to be a brawl–an expensive brawl between incumbent Republican Ed Robb and Democratic challenger Chris Kelly (pictured at left).

In 2006, Jim Ritter challenged Robb, and they fought the most expensive House campaign in Missouri history. Between them, they spent over $300,000, with Robb having a spending edge of $42,000. With that advantage, he managed to eke out a 211 vote victory. When Ronny Richardson talked to me about that race early last month, he praised Jim Ritter’s fine qualifications, but he thought the outcome might have been different if Ritter had been willing to throw a few punches. Some streetfighting smarts were called for because Robb’s got nothing against getting down and dirty. Ronny figures that holding back in a brawl isn’t part of Chris Kelly’s nature.

I asked Kelly about that assessment, and he said, “Me? I’m a little bunny rabbit.”

Um-hmm. With claws.

After assuring me of his gentle nature, he got down to brass tacks assessing the way the race is going. He’s well known in Columbia for serving twelve years in the House in the eighties and nineties, for successfully running for associate circuit judge, and for writing a column in the Columbia Tribune for several years. In fact, he’s never lost an elective race. And, like so many other Democrats I’ve talked to, he figures that the way to win a race is with a good ground game. He’s already knocked on more than 5,000 doors.

But in this district, money is necessary. So far, that aspect of the race looks to be in Kelly’s favor. As of eight days before the primary, he had brought in $110,000, 85 percent of it from individual donors. And he’s spending it too. He says he’s already up on TV, which I take to be the explanation for a $10,000 expenditure to Starwood Enterprises.

If you trust appearances, it looks as if Ed Robb (pictured at left) had better get cracking because, as of eight days before the primary, he had raised a little less than $58,000. But I don’t trust appearances. I figure that the big money will start pouring in after the campaign finance limits come off on August 28th.

Once the money’s in–most of it from businesspeople and PACs–it will go for a lot of media:

Like the last election, Robb’s campaign plans to spend the most money during the last few weeks of the campaign because if voters are bombarded with ads throughout the campaign, “people get tired of hearing your name,” he said.

………

Robb said this campaign is so costly because of the many media outlets in Columbia: advertising is expensive, especially television and radio ads.

But let’s not forget that this race is about more than who has the most money and who knocks on the most doors. It is about issues, and on that score, Kelly is the man.

He’s pro-choice, all the way, for example. In 1993, he introduced the first bill in the history of the state to appropriate funds for birth control and family planning. He says that “it was a two hour floor battle and we passed it by one vote.” A lot of women who were involved in that battle remember his part in it and are very involved now in his campaign.

As House Leader, he led the fight to get the KATY trail built. For that, he was given the Sierra Club legislator of the year award–an award he’s received twice. Considering his love of the out of doors–that’s him going over the falls–he and the Sierra Club are a natural fit.

He also believes in protecting the environment by favoring local control of CAFOs.

“On CAFOs I’m a total believer in local control. You can make an argument that a local county might want a CAFO, but that is their business. The only reason to move it to the state is so that Big Ag can control the situation.”

The message Kelly is stressing most this election season is how Republicans have changed for the worse since he was in the legislature. He’s appalled at their extreme partisanship. Kelly says that when he was in the House, he and Republicans disagreed on issues and fought about them, but they were personally collegial, knew about each other’s kids and thought of each other as friends. Now they’re hiring private investigators to chase the opposition around.

When he was in the House, he understood the need for and the art of compromise. When the Nancy Cruzan case arose in the eighties–she was a young woman in a persistent vegetative state whose family wanted to remove the feeding tubes–Kelly drafted legislation that the Catholic Conference, which opposed Cruzan’s family’s wishes–was willing to accept. The bill allowed families to have feeding tubes removed, but only if two doctors affirmed that the patient was in a persistent vegetative state and only if the patient had, while still mentally competent, delegated such authority to the family in a clear and convincing way. Ashcroft, as governor, signed the legislation.

Ed Robb is one of the partisans that Kelly decries. Robb voted for the Medicaid cuts. He didn’t vote for the sale of the MOHELA assets, but that presumably was because, like many Republicans, he feared the science buildings the money would be used to construct might conceivably someday be the site of stem cell research.

Robb, in turn, disparages Kelly as a “tax-and-spend liberal” partly because Kelly has staunchly opposed spending cuts to the University of Missouri and partly because, as a legislator, he voted for the Excellence in Education Act, which boosted funding for elementary and secondary education. Chris responds that if the Excellence in Education Act was such a bad idea, then Robb ought to vote to repeal it. As if Robb would make a politically risky move like that.

So the sniping has started, and we shall see how heated the exchanges get by November 4th. We’ll also see how much money gets spent, how many doors get knocked on, and, most important, who wins.

Top photo of Kelly courtesy of The Maneater. Photo of Robb courtesy of Project Vote Smart