Now that the midterms are a couple of weeks behind us, it is time to take stock of where we stand and what the makeup of the new Congress means for the next two years, especially in Missouri, a state that is rapidly losing it’s moderate, bellweather status and turning an ever-deepening shade of red as the differences between the cities and the rural areas grow more stark and more divided in their political views.
It is against that backdrop that the woman who will be Missouri’s Senior Senator in the 112th Congress, freshman Claire McCaskill, launches her campaign to retain her Senate seat, a seat that has a special significance in this state because it happens to be the same one that Harry S Truman occupied before he was selected to be FDR’s Vice President.
Missourians are proud of Harry Truman and the job he did in the Senate, especially his work on the Truman Committee, a position from which he delighted in knocking greedy, corpulent, war-profiteering snouts out of the public trough while he threatened the heads of big businesses with serious jail time if they failed to meet the terms of their contracts. Claire has done a worthy job of filling the seat, and she has established a solid record to run on that the more practical and pragmatic, less ideologically driven people in the rural areas can bring themselves to vote for. If she reprises the same sort of campaign she ran in 2006, she ought to be able to stitch together the same constituency that got her elected to the Senate in the first place.
That is because she has created her own brand of independence from the Democratic Party, with only three other Democratic Senators having lower party loyalty scores. That record could help to immunize her against charges that she is a “big-government, tax-and-spend liberal.” Her record is one of going after waste and fraud and she is just about the only Senator in Washington doing so. She has been tireless in going after the fraud that military contractors have been perpetrating since 2001.
She was also way ahead of the curve on refusing earmarks. I happen to disagree with her on earmarks, but that doesn’t change the fact that the issue can be a winner in the outstate areas.
Yet in spite of the fact that on a multitude of issues she is where the so-called tea partiers say they want their candidates to be – earmarks, going after waste, fraud and abuse, no to Cap and Trade – they make no bones about saying they “want her running scared.” But of course, everyone knows that the so-called “tea partiers” are not really independent voters. They are just conservative republicans who are embarrassed to admit that they are the same conservative republicans who supported the previous administration and their wild and reckless ways, and are now trying to pretend otherwise because they are – or should be – embarrassed.
How tough her bid for reelection will be will depend a lot on the republican field and how bloody and bruising the primary gets and who comes out of it the last man or woman standing. If she faces Jim Talent in a rematch of the 2006 battle she won to unseat him, she should win fairly easily because he was such a lazy, do-nothing Senator when he held the seat, and the contrast that can be drawn between the two known quantities will be stark.
While Claire McCaskill has used her chairmanship of an Armed Services subcommittee to relentlessly go after military contractors who have defrauded the taxpayers and failed to deliver the goods and services they were contractually obligated to provide, Jim Talent failed to attend 65 of the 95 Senate Armed Services Committee meetings that were held during the time he held his seat on the committee.
That salient fact matters to a lot of outstate voters, because they all either have someone in their family who is currently serving or who has served recently. If you have a son, daughter, niece, nephew or friend who ever takes a shower in Halliburton-constructed living quarters, you tend to care that troops who were safely inside the wire where they should have been able to relax and unwind have been electrocuted in the shower, and they appreciate the fact that they have the only Senator in all of Washington who is trying to do something about it.
I have long lamented the loss of Democratic Party infrastructure in the outstate areas, especially the northern tier. Claire McCaskill won in 2006 because she didn’t just concentrate on the urban areas and Columbia. She went to every county and she shook hands and she asked people to vote for her. She is a skilled politican as well as an effective legislator, and while there are a lot of people who are one or the other, Claire McCaskill is one of the few who is both. As their Senator, she has been back for town halls and kitchen table chats and kept the voters informed as to what she is doing for them in D.C., and she realizes that while the population in the northern tier of the state isn’t dense, the people aren’t either, and she is smart enough to go get the votes that are there to be picked up by any Democrat who will bother to ask for them.