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Blunt wins handily in U.S. Senate contest, Carnahan concedes

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 3, 2010 - Fueled by a huge rural Republican surge, U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt on Tuesday handily won his bid for the U.S. Senate, defeating Democrat Robin Carnahan by one of Missouri's largest margins in decades.

Blunt, a Republican congressman from southwest Missouri, declared in his victory speech that the result sends a message that Missouri voters "want common sense government" in Washington.

Blunt's success reflected national trends, which saw Republicans take over the U.S. House and trim the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate.

Missouri Democrats suffered heavy losses, including the posts of state auditor, three state Senate seats and a number of state House seats. Veteran Democratic congressman Ike Skelton lost, while U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, appeared to have narrowly won his re-election bid.

Blunt reinterated to buoyant supporters gathered in his hometown of Springfield, Mo., many of the concerns that he had emphasized on the campaign trail for months: his support for tax cuts, his opposition to much of the federal spending, and his opposition to the energy "cap and trade" plan that critics contend will increase utility rates in coal-dependent states such as Missouri.

He also recalled a quote from the late President Ronald Reagan, a GOP luminary: "Freedom is easier to hold onto than it is to get back."

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., and chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, quickly issued a statement lauding Blunt on his victory -- and noting that the committee spent $1.2 million on Blunt's contest.

"After a hard-fought campaign in the key swing state of Missouri, Roy Blunt was victorious because voters know that he is a proven, common-sense leader who will fight to restore accountability and reduce the size of government," Cornyn said. "Missourians want real change in Washington and that's why they rejected President (Barack) Obama and the Democrats' job-killing tax hikes and failed economic agenda. I look forward to working with Senator-elect Blunt as we fight to rein in the government's out-of-control spending and bloated bureaucracy."

Missouri Republican Party chairman David Cole called his party's performance, nationally and in Missouri, "historic victories (that) will be remembered for generations to come.

"Most importantly, we would like to humbly thank the Missourians who put their trust in the Republican Party and our candidates," Cole said. "Elected Republicans will strive every day to uphold the highest ideals of our nation and our constitution, to govern responsibly, and to be responsive to the people who have entrusted us to lead our state and nation during these perilous times."

In her concession speech, Carnahan -- currently Missouri's secretary of state -- said that her loss didn't negate the concerns that she had expressed repeatedly during her campaign. "There are things to be fixed in this country and no time to waste," she said.

It was time for those in Washington, she added, to promote "shared sacrifice" and drop their preference for protecting the rich and powerful.

Also benefiting from the rural GOP surge was Republican state auditor nominee Tom Schweich, a St. Louis lawyer who ousted state Auditor Susan Montee, a Democrat. Schweich had traveled with Blunt during his final campaign swing.

The only area Democrat assured of victory early during Tuesday night's vote counting was U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis. He said in an interview that he wouldn't be celebrating until he was assured that some other Democrats had won as well.

Clay said he was prepared to be in the minority in the U.S. House, noting that he had "been in the minority for my first six years ... I don't like it, but I'm accustomed to it."

Blunt won in part by trouncing Carnahan in Republican-leaning rural Missouri, collecting close to 63 percent of the outstate vote. But he also performed well in Democratic-leaning St. Louis County, the state's largest bloc of votes, by snagging just under half of the vote.

As a result, he overwhelmed Carnahan's urban edge.

The Senate contest has been dominated for months by negative TV ads and attacks, many of them lobbed by outside groups that spent millions of dollars to sway Missouri voters.

In other results, Missouri voters:

  • Overwhelmingly supported Proposition A, which bars Missouri communities from enacting earnings taxes and requires the two cities that already have them -- St. Louis and Kansas City -- to have elections every five years on whether to retain the tax, the first occuring next spring.
  • Were split over Proposition B, which imposes restrictions on dog breeders in the state. National animal rights groups had spent heavily in favor of the measure, employing a last-minute robocall campaign featuring actress Betty White.

In Missouri's two hottest outstate contests for Congress:

  • Democratic incumbent Ike Skelton of Lexington, the dean of Missouri's congressional delegation, was defeated by Republican challenger Vicky Hartzler;
  • Republican incumbent Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, easily defeated Democratic challenger Tommy Sowers.

In the St. Louis area, Democratic incumbent Charlie Dooley won a close race over Republican challenger Bill Corrigan in the contest for St. Louis County between county executive.
In the 3rd District congressional race, Democratic incumbent Russ Carnahan had a 4,500-vote edge over Republican Ed Martin with nearly 100 percent of the vote counted.

In Illinois, President Barack Obama's former U.S. Senate seat Republican Mark Kirk defeated Democrat Alexi Giannoulias.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, was holding a slight lead late Tuesday over Republican Bill Brady. Quinn has been governor for 21 months after taking over from ousted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Secretary of State Jesse White have declared victory in their races. Both are incumbent Democrats.

Robert Joiner and Puneet Kollipara contributed to this report.

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