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Carnahan gets boost from Hoyer as he ponders future

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 17, 2011 - Now that U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Town and Country, is clearing giving up his 2nd District seat, the question is whether U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, will make a grab for it.

Carnahan, in office since 2005, has been pondering his political future ever since the Republican-controlled General Assembly ripped his district out from under him this spring when it redrew boundaries for the state's remaining eight districts.

On Wednesday, Carnahan will be getting a boost from U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md. and the No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. House. Hoyer is headlining a lunchtime fundraiser here for the congressman (Politico saysthe tickets are $500 and $1,000 a plate) and then joining him at an afternoon "Make It in America'' forum on jobs and manufacturing at Forest Park Community College.

Carnahan's spokeswoman said that the money raised will go into the congressman's congressional campaign committee. (The congressman raised $300,000 during the first quarter of this year, although that's dwarfed by Akin's campaign bank account of $910,000-plus.)

The talk for months has been that Carnahan might consider running in the 2nd, if the final boundary lines are deemed competitive enough -- and if Akin isn't running for re-election.

The new 2nd will have more Democrats -- most of them from Carnahan's current 3rd District -- but it still will lean Republican.

In 2008, for example, 48 percent of the voters in the new 2nd went for President Barack Obama. But while encouraging to Carnahan, such a district doesn't hold a candle to the 60-percent Democratic performance in his current seat (and which he barely managed to hold last fall, in a tough contest with Republican Ed Martin amid the national GOP wave).

Carnahan's allies hint that he and others are considering whether to challenge the new map in court. Webster Groves, for example, now is in the 3rd. In the new map, the city is split between the 2nd and the 1st District -- potentially violating the federal "communities of interest'' rule.

But Carnahan also may be toying with a statewide bid -- most likely lieutenant governor, since no Democrat has yet declared for that post in 2012. There also is a rumored scenario that has Carnahan running for secretary of state, and his sister -- incumbent Secretary of State Robin Carnahan -- filing instead for lieutenant governor or not running for anything. (Robin Carnahan's spokeswoman said the secretary won't discuss rumors.)

Such speculation offered a backdrop for the congressman's intriguing appearance last Saturday at Truman Days in Kansas City.

While at the lectern, Carnahan tweaked U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City, a former friend of the Carnahans (a pastor, he officiated at Robin Carnahan's wedding) who was sitting in the audience and now likely is off their guest list for good. Cleaver had been persuaded by Republicans to back the new map and lobbied a couple Democratic legislators in his district to override Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of it a couple weeks ago.

By coincidence or design, Carnahan's allies also have launched a Facebook remembrance of the late Gov. Mel Carnahan, featuring a video of the family patriarch discussing his commitment to education. The effort also introduces the Carnahan family's legacy to a new generation.

In any case, Russ Carnahan is expected to announce in weeks what office he hopes to seek in 2012. His decision is likely hastened by Akin's announcement this morning.

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.