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Rep. Blunt's healthcare role could improve his political health

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 9, 2009 - As he continues his quest for the U.S. Senate, U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt is taking a higher-profile national role as a key Republican leader of the GOP's counter-effort on health care.

Blunt, R-Strafford, is chairman of the House GOP's Health Care Solutions Group, which appeared on Tuesday to be the major Republican vehicle for challenging the approaches that President Barack Obama and Democratic congressional leaders are considering as they try to revamp the nation's health care system.

On Tuesday, Blunt's office fired off a series of releases blasting the Democrats' proposals -- especially those that would set up a federal government-run health care program that people could buy into, or a government mandate that people must buy insurance coverage.

Said Blunt in one statement: “The legislative blueprint the Democrats unveiled today is not a surprise. It’s more of the same go-it-alone approach they’ve used to lock Republicans out of the process from the start. This draft embraces the same policies that have led to delayed and denied care for patients in countries with government-controlled health care systems."

Aside from his policy role, Blunt's activities also elevate his political profile at a time when he's trying to raise money and discourage GOP rivals for his 2010 bid for the U.S. Senate seat held by fellow Republican Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., who is retiring.

This month is crucial fund-raising time for Blunt, who needs to show better numbers when the next reports are due July 15. His lower-than-expected tally on April 15 emboldened some Republicans to go public with their fears that Blunt may not be the strongest opponent against the only Democratic candidate at the moment, Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan. She outraised Blunt during this year's first quarter, which was unexpected.

Such talk has encouraged two potential rivals, former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman and visiting Washington University professor Thomas Schweich, a former member of the Bush administration and graduate of Clayton High School. Schweich's allies include former U.S. Sen. John C. Danforth, R-Mo., and prominent GOP business leaders Bert Walker and Sam Fox.

The effort to end the GOP divisions, and get all the major players behind Blunt could intensify in the coming weeks.

Danforth is to be honored Thursday at a state GOP fundraiser in Clayton, where Blunt is likely to get at least a mention. The big question: Do any of those comments come from Danforth?

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.