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Senate candidates tout endorsements as they head into final weeks

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 16, 2010 - Months after Missouri Right to Life announced that it was endorsing U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt for the U.S. Senate, the National Right to Life has followed suit.

Today, Blunt's campaign made public the national endorsement as part of an apparent push to promote his social-conservative credentials and contrast them with his Democratic rival, Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan. She supports abortion rights but doesn't mention the issue much on the campaign trail.

"The sanctity of life is very important to me, and it also represents a big difference between me and my opponent," said Blunt in a statement.

The social issue is one of several -- like gun rights -- that Republicans often use to galvanize their base and attract support from Catholics and other religious denominations that oppose abortions. That's particularly true as voters become more engaged after Labor Day.

Democrats often used the abortion-rights issue in the 1990s to galvanize women voters, who as a group tend to be more interested in the issue. But many Democratic candidates have lowered their emphasis on abortion in recent years -- in part in a quest to avoid alienating Catholics, in particular, who otherwise might agree with Democrats on other social-justice issues.

Meanwhile, Robin Carnahan was focusing today on an issue of particular concern to men -- veterans rights -- by announcing the formation of a Veterans for Carnahan coalition with an event in Kansas City.

Carnahan and other Democrats have been accusing Republicans, including Blunt, of shortchanging veterans -- especially those needing medical care for battle-related injuries. Carnahan today released a list of Blunt's congressional votes. "In May, Blunt voted against ending an unfair tax on disabled veterans," her campaign said in a statement. "He has also opposed funding for veterans' health care and voted against providing job assistance for veterans returning home from overseas."

Blunt has disputed such attacks by highlighting other votes aimed at assisting veterans. Blunt also formed, months ago, a Veterans for Blunt group. And last week, he highlighted his endorsement from the Veterans of Foreign Wars' political action committee. Blunt and Carnahan had addressed the state arm at its June convention.

Dewey M. Riehn with the VFW National Legislative Committee said in a statement: "Roy has consistently been a supporter of veterans issues in the U.S. House.  His efforts were especially noteworthy in helping solve the problem of disabled veterans who were also retired from the military.  His efforts corrected the problems and inequities in this area.  Roy could also be counted on to be a strong advocate for veterans health care."

Because of the thousands of votes that a member of Congress casts, including on procedural matters, it's generally easy to find that a member has cast votes on any side of an issue. That can make it harder to pin down an incumbent's true record on an issue -- and easier to attack them.

Aside from the public-relations value, endorsements by key groups can offer a political boost if the groups' leaders promote their choices to their membership or -- even better for a candidate -- pay for independent TV or radio ads. 

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