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Try handling a classroom of fourth graders for the day. Every day. And then, after the little darlin’s have gone home, try going out to campaign for state representative. Every day.

When I talked to Keri Cottrell last week, she said that she generally leaves school by 4:00, and if she’s not already scheduled to attend a meeting or the opening of a Dem headquarters, or a soup supper, fish fry, or ice cream social, then she’s knocking on doors. Since HD 1 covers five counties  and part of two others in the northwest corner of the state, none of those activities are close to home.

The day I talked to her, she said, she had driven a half hour after school to Quincy, IL, to record a radio spot. By the time she got back, it was too late to knock on any doors with the dark coming on as early as it does now–especially since, with five plus counties to cover, just getting to a town where she plans to canvass takes time–and gas.

That same evening, Cottrell almost surely had papers to grade or lessons to plan after getting off the phone with me–oh, and she had to look over the latest campaign finance report before sending it off to the Ethics Commission.

Not that she was complaining. Nor am I saying that she’s got a harder row to hoe than other candidates. But running for state rep and working full time is no cakewalk. I’m amazed that people do it.

Some of them even do it in hard core red districts where they’re building the party in hopes of a win in some future election cycle. That takes true grit. At least Keri has a shot at unseating three-term representative Brian Munzlinger.

HD 1 has a history of Democratic representatives in that seat going back, Cottrell says, to at least as far as when she was in elementary school. But there’s a strong streak of fundamentalism running through the district, and Munzlinger took advantage of anti-abortion sentiment when he gained the seat. Cottrell tries to neutralize that advantage by pointing out that Munzlinger voted with the Republican-controlled House and Senate and the Republican governor on the abortion issue, but that they accomplished “next to nothing to do away with abortion.”

Maybe it’s time, she tells voters, to be less perturbed about her pro-choice stand and more concerned about jobs, mortgages and health care. For example, 1,317 people were cut from the Medicaid rolls in District One in the great purge of 2005. If the person at the door wasn’t one of those thirteen hundred, Keri asks if he’s aware that his health care costs have gone up because of those Medicaid cuts.

Cottrell can also speak with authority about the school funding problems in HD 1. She maintains that the current school funding formula has hurt rural districts like hers. She resents seeing her school system forced to put up with older textbooks and not have access to the technology that would best prepare students for the job market.

Despite the way voters are gnashing their teeth over the economy, though–and northeastern corner of Missouri is really, really shy of good-paying jobs–and despite the long history of Democratic dominance there, robbing Brian Munzlinger of his fourth term in the House is an iffy proposition. Keri tells me HD 1 has a 47 Democratic Performance Index, but Munzlinger has won his three races by between 8.6 percent and 16.6 percent. The opponent who came closest was Beau Hicks, who’d been chairman of a county Republican Committee, gotten upset about some internal matter, and switched parties.

Furthermore, Munzlinger–can you imagine such a thing?–is better funded. He’s got $38,000 on hand to Cottrell’s $17,000. The NRA loves him, as do the Missouri Soybean Assn. and the Missouri Cattlemen. Oh, and Rex Sinquefield. Munzlinger raised $16,000 in September alone–$5,000 from Sinqufield’s Missourians Supporting Teaching Excellence and $3,000 from Ron Richard.

I’d like to think that that September infusion of cash is a sign that Republicans are worried about the seat. If they’re not worried exactly, they are at least playing it safe. In this strong Democratic year, it would make sense for them to bolster someone like Munzlinger.

It’s an interesting race, and I’ll be watching on election night for the results from HD 1.