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Blunt highlights record — ignores his opponent — in re-election kickoff

Sen. Blunt, wife Abigail, son Charlie 2-19-16
Jo Mannies | St. Louis Public Radio

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., is launching his re-election bid by sticking to familiar conservative themes — his belief in fewer federal regulations, his opposition to Obamacare and his pledge to oppose any Supreme Court nominee.

In fact, Blunt told allies gathered Friday morning in an Arnold-area factory that he wouldn’t even vote to confirm his own daughter, a lawyer, should she somehow become the choice of President Barack Obama. 

The senator explained that's how firm he was in his belief that the next president — not Obama — should fill the vacancy created by the recent death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

His aforementioned daughter, Amy Blunt Mosby, chuckled with the rest of the crowd gathered on the production floor of Unico — SGI Manufacturing, a metal-fabrication company on the outskirts of Arnold in Jefferson County.

Blunt’s point was that he’s an unswerving conservative that base Republicans can rely on.

"I've been representing this state the way they want to be represented," he told reporters. "I look forward to continuing to do that."

In his speech, Blunt blasted “mindless regulation’’ and renewed his longstanding objections to the federal health insurance overhaul, officially known as the Affordable Care Act.

“Clearly the health-care system wasn’t perfect before Obamacare,’’ Blunt said. But he asserted the Democratic-led health-care changes have made things worse. "The next president is going to have to lead in a way that does something about the implosion of the health-care system."

Blunt also highlighted his recent focus on improving access to mental health care, which he says should be treated the same as physical health care.

His decision to kickoff his re-election effort in Arnold also makes political sense. Jefferson County is swing political territory that could be crucial for Blunt’s re-election effort and the bid of his Democratic rival, Secretary of State Jason Kander, to replace Blunt.

Jefferson County Executive Ken Waller, a Republican, said the county’s conservative slide in recent elections bodes well for Blunt this fall. Reflecting on Blunt’s long political career, Waller observed, “‘Blunt’ is a good solid name for conservatism.”

At 66, Blunt has spent most of the past 44 years in office — beginning in 1972, when he became Greene County clerk. Blunt held that post for 12 years, until he was elected Missouri secretary of state in 1984.

In 1992, Blunt narrowly lost the GOP nomination for governor to then-Attorney General Bill Webster in a primary battle that still stands as one of Missouri’s ugliest. Webster went on to lose that fall to Democrat Mel Carnahan.

After a stint as a college president, Blunt was back in the political world by 1998, when he was elected to Congress from his home turf in southwest Missouri. He handily won election to the U.S. Senate in 2010, defeating then-Secretary of State Robin Carnahan.

The son of dairy farmers whose homestead was near Bolivar, Mo., Blunt made a point of noting in his kickoff speech that he was the first of his family to go to college.

Focus on constituent service

At the SGI event, company sales director Shawn Intagliata, who introduced Blunt, praised the senator for saving the firm when a Department of Energy regulation threatened its survival.

SGI marked the first of 10 campaign stops around the state that Blunt plans to make through Monday, using a charter plane. On Tuesday, Blunt plans to be in Jefferson City for the first day of candidate filing for this fall’s elections.

Blunt deputy campaign manager Burson Snyder said that all of the 10 campaign visits will, like SGI, highlight the senator’s success in helping constituents since he took office in 2011.

Other scheduled stops include a church in Kansas City and the public high school in Joplin, Mo.  

The campaign blitz, known as a “flyaround,’’ also exemplies the traditional kickoff approach for many Missouri statewide campaigns. But increasingly, many candidates have ditched flyarounds in favor of one or two kickoff events, coupled with a heavy presence on social media or YouTube.

Snyder observed that a flyaround “helps tell those stories in a way that YouTube can’t.”

Democrats pounce

Just as Blunt prepared to deliver his remarks in Arnold, Missouri Democrats fired off their counterattack.  Democrats have asserted for more than a week that Blunt misled the public for decades about why he did not serve in the military during the Vietnam War. Kander is an Army veteran.

In particular, Democrats have accused Blunt of failing to make it clear that he had obtained three college deferments in the 1960s. After graduating, Blunt received a high number in the first military lottery – which replaced the draft by 1970. As a result, he was never called up.

Blunt has said that he has always been upfront about his lack of military service and has never hidden that he was in college during the Vietnam conflict.

Democrats and an anti-Blunt veterans group have set up an attack web site, www.TruthAboutBlunt.com.

In Arnold, Blunt didn’t mention the deferment issue — but he did note that he’d recently received a lifetime achievement award from the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Blunt also stuck with a personal tradition since Kander announced his plans to challenge the senator a year ago. Blunt hasn’t mentioned Kander in any speeches since that time. Blunt didn’t bring up Kander’s name in Arnold, and aides say the senator has no plans to deviate from that during his flyaround.

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.