Yesterday Democratic Secretary of State Jason Kander announced his intention to run for the Senate seat currently held by Republican Roy Blunt in 2016. Although Blunt is so well- established in the state political hierarchy, and his campaign coffers are so full that defeating him will be a rough slog in a state that, as the DailyKos notes, “has become increasingly Republican in recent years, especially at the federal level,” Kander will be a credible opponent:
Kander enters the contest with the backing of Missouri’s Democratic statewide elected officials, and he’s unlikely to face any real primary opposition. Kander has only won statewide once, but he proved in 2012 that he is capable of prevailing in tough races. He defeated then-state Rep. Shane Schoeller 49-47 at the same time Mitt Romney was carrying the Show Me State 54-44. As an Afghanistan veteran, Kander also has a background that contrasts well with Blunt, who has served in Congress for decades.
I suspect that implicit in the contrast the writer was implying when he noted that Blunt has “served in congress for decades,” is the fact that the folks Blunt has served most diligently during those decades are the ones who can fork over the dollars. It’s not for nothing that Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) selected Blunt as one of the most corrupt members in congress – an honor that, as far as I remember, didn’t get too much play in the local press where folks seem to be very wary of offending a powerful politician, not to mention the daddy of former governor Matt Blunt, who, incidentally, had to field his own corruption scandals (see here, here, and here), some of them in tandem with his father.
Yesterday evening I got a sample of that curious reluctance of local media folks to tell it like it is when it comes to Roy Blunt. Donnybrook is a local St. Louis public television program where a few minor, local media people of almost all persuasions, from the center left to far right (no hard-core progressives – that doesn’t seem to be done in St. Louis “power” circles), get together to discuss local current events. Naturally, Kander’s announcement came up. I was shocked to hear the tenor of the comments, including some from the putatively “liberal” donnybrookers.
“Roy Blunt is a darn good politician” one participant noted, adding that although Missouri has liberal media in Kansas City and St. Louis, “Blunt gets pretty darn good press; he’s almost error free, controversy free.” While my mouth dropped, another added that Blunt is a “seasoned, good politician, the press likes him, he’s personable, not crazy” and, get this, “he’s scandal free.” To be fair, a panel member, Wendy Wiese, did point out the scandals surrounding the tenure of Matt Blunt in which his father was seriously implicated, including the connections to “K-street,” and “quid pro quo,” but even she agreed that all that had “quieted down.”
So we live in a state and a time where simply not being one of the crazies and hanging on through scandal after scandal not only qualifies one for office, but, given a firm enough power base, renders one unbeatable. The other operative issue seemed to be that the Missouri press “likes” Blunt – a fact that is borne out by the fact that the scandals have “quieted” down. Many of them didn’t get much coverage, if any, to start with, apart from maybe an occasional editorial in those bastions of that “liberal media” referred to in the discussion. Remember Roy Blunt’s “Montsanto Protection Act” just a couple of years ago? Hardly controversy free by my standards.
I realize that the Donnybrook pundits were trying to talk about the political “horse race” and not the real virtues of the candidates – but I don’t think that handicapping the race need preclude recognition and serious mention of the accusations that have dogged and continue to dog Roy Blunt. I also realize that our definition of political corruption has narrowed to include only easily identifiable acts of bribery – which have come close to dinging Blunt in the past – but it wouldn’t hurt if a few media figures such as those pontificating on Donnybrook were willing to look at the things that Roy Blunt seems to care passionately about – if one can use the word “passionately” about such a lazy politician – and trace the relationship between those issues and his financial sponsors.
Even in strictly horse race terms, a fresh, and truly scandal free politician like Kander might actually give a tired, damaged piece of goods like Roy Blunt a run for his money if only state media were willing to ask the real Roy Blunt to “come on down.” Instead, I heard only condescendingly tolerant treatment of Kander who, the Donnybrook regulars noted, “will have a tough row to hoe.” But hey, the official pseudo-liberal on the panel, Bill McClellan, added that if he wants “to play in the big leagues before he’s ready,” why not let him; after all, McClellan implied, what harm can the kid really do?
Also at the level of horse race journalism, I didn’t hear one word about how 2016 will be a presidential election which could bring out a somewhat more balanced constituency. Maybe if we Democrats can finally oppose Blunt with a viable, honest candidate who isn’t afraid of standing up for his beliefs, our junior Senator won’t be able to coast into office once again by capitalizing on his opponent’s fear of red state bile – center-hugging Robin Carnahan, anyone – and the perception that he’ll be okay just because he’s not quite as stark raving crazy as the type of nutjobs that Missouri has become famous for, folks like Cynthia Davis, Rick Brattin or, most notoriously, Todd Akin – who, incidentally, may be hoping to firm up Roy Blunt’s “not crazy” credentials by providing the necessary contrast with the real, worst thing in the GOP primaries.