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Former state GOP chief Wagner to offer a boost to Blunt's Senate campaign

This article first apeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 26, 2009 - U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, a Republican running for the U.S. Senate, is apparently hoping to get a boost from former Missouri GOP chairwoman Ann Wagner, a St. Louisan who just returned from a four-year stint as the U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg.

Wagner will serve as Blunt's campaign chairman, the two announced at a news conference this morning in Frontenac. Besides her former state role, Wagner previously was co-chair of the Republican National Committee and helmed several high-profile presidential campaigns in Missouri.

Wagner said in a telephone interview this afternoon that she plans to be very active on Blunt's behalf and travel the state. 

"I've never done anything in 'name only,' " Wagner said, referring to the general tendency of  some campaign chairmen to simply be a high-profile name on campaign literature.

Noting that she had just returned to the region this summer, Wagner said she was getting involved in Blunt's campaign because of "the urgency of the situation."

Blunt is seeking to fill the Senate seat soon to be vacated by retiring Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo. The latest polls show Blunt in a neck-and-neck contest with the only announced Democratic candidate, Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan.

Wagner said it was crucial that Bond's Senate seat remain in Republican hands, particularly since Democrats control both chambers of Congress and the White House.

Wagner cited "the negative consequences'' of unchecked Democratic power, particularly given some policies and proposals of President Barack Obama's administration.

The state Democratic Party offered its own take on Wagner's involvement, asserting in a statement that "Wagner is an influential Washington insider who is part of the money merry-go-round that created the culture of influence peddling and favor giving that was perfected by super-lobbyists like Jack Abramoff."

Even Democrats agree that Wagner's presence is likely aimed at giving the congressman from Springfield, Mo., more of a "presence" in the St. Louis area, especially in St. Louis County, swing territory that is the state's largest bloc of votes.  Carnahan has a home in St. Louis and her mother -- former Sen. Jean Carnahan, D-Mo. -- resides primarily in Clayton.

Wagner said that she has been impressed by Blunt's focus on the St. Louis area. "A key campaign office will be here in St. Louis,'' she said, adding that she'll be based there.

She added that she hoped Blunt's ramped-up operation in St. Louis, and her role in it, might prompt Carnahan to take on a more public campaign role. Carnahan has been actively raising money and making limited public campaign appearances. But she has indicated that she believes that it is too early to launch into a full bore campaign, saying in several interviews with the Beacon that she believes it's important to focus on her elected duties.

Carnahan is to be in Israel this week, joining area civic leaders on a trip that apparently is not tied to her official office since she announced her travel plans via her campaign.

Wagner, by the way, apparently has no plans to run for office herself next year -- despite some tantalizing comments she made to the Beacon at a recent GOP event.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.