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Missouri Democrats set up shop in St. Peters, with eye on November

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 1, 2010 - Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, the best-known Democrat running for the U.S. Senate, made clear Sunday that she -- like her best-known GOP rival, Roy Blunt -- is focusing solely on the November election.

Not Tuesday's primary.

Carnahan joined more than 100 supporters Sunday afternoon at the grand opening of the St. Peters campaign office for the state Democratic Party and its candidates.

Carnahan, dressed in white jeans and a blue shirt, addressed the crowd from the bed of an aide's pickup truck, which served as a backdrop for her focus on the nation's economy in general, and Blunt in particular. 

"I'm determined, and I'm defiant!" Carnahan declared.

She said she understood how voters in Missouri and elsewhere to continue to exude "a frustration with the status quo in Washington," where Carnahan reinterated her frequent assertions that many politicians in Congress -- notably Blunt -- are "too cozy with the special interests."

She also said that Blunt was partially responsible for the increase in the federal deficit, because he had been a congressional leader for much the of the 12-year period (1995-2007) when Republicans were in charge and, said Carnahan, transformed the federal budget surplus of the late 1990s into a hefty debt now.

But what Carnahan said was arguably less important than where she said it.

St. Peters is in St. Charles County -- long the state's fastest-growing county and key Republican territory for at least the past 20 years.

Yet, as St. Peters Alderman Tommy Roberts declared to the crowd, "This is battleground central."

He exhorted his audience this fall to "go out and work this thing (Carnahan's bid) like your life depends on it."

Roberts and other St. Charles County Democrats emphasized in interviews that nobody expects Carnahan to carry the county in November. Rather, it's all about the margin.

The key to statewide victory for any Missouri Democrat is to rack up as many votes in Democratic-leaning urban turf -- and not lose too badly in GOP territory like St. Charles. (The main reason Blunt currently is leading in independent polls is because he has a larger edge in rural and Republican areas than Carnahan has in Democratic areas.)

In 2006, Democrat Claire McCaskill lost St. Charles County by 12,300 votes in what turned out to be a successful statewide bid to unseat then-U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo. For a Democrat, her performance in St. Charles was lauded because it was a strong improvement over the last Senate contest in 2002.

That year, Talent had carried St. Charles County by 16,600 votes in his successful quest to unseat then-Sen. Jean Carnahan, D-Mo. (and Robin Carnahan's mother). His margin in St. Charles County was a substantial part of Talent's narrow 21,300-vote edge statewide.

McCaskill's success in shaving the margin in St. Charles County and other GOP strongholds gets a lot of credit for her overall 2006 win. So was her huge edge in St. Louis County, which helps explain why Blunt has situated his campaign headquarters in south St. Louis County -- not across the state on his home turf of Springfield, Mo.

The state Republican Party also has set up a satellite headquarters in St. Louis County, underscoring its focus on doing better in St. Louis and St. Charles counties, activists say. The GOP demonstrated the political importance of St. Charles County earlier this year by opting to hold its statewide Lincoln Days in St. Charles for the first time ever.

Meanwhile, the state Democratic Party -- in effect run by Carnahan and Gov. Jay Nixon -- is in the process of setting up satellite offices in Republican areas around the state. Such an office already has been set up Springfield.

But such actions by both camps have the general election in mind.

Not Tuesday.

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.