Missouri Hosts Several Competitive Election Races
By Proxy Author, Proxy Author for Import
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Home to arguably the nation's second-most exciting Senate race, a competitive governor's race and a hotly contested battle for control of the legislature, Missouri will be a closely watched place in November. It is also considered a swing state in the presidential race.
Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo. , faces an old nemesis in his bid for a second term as the Show Me state's junior senator. A conservative even within the Republican conference, Ashcroft flirted with a run for the GOP presidential nomination, but abandoned that idea when Democratic Gov. Mel Carnahan announced for his Senate seat.
Democratic leaders say they couldn't feel better about their chance to beat Ashcroft. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee says Missouri represents one of its priority races to reclaim the Senate. The DSCC likes its chances because a popular, sitting governor already has state-wide name recognition. It says Ashcroft is too conservative to hold an electorate historically Democratic.
The Carnahan camp says the challenger is running on a "bread and butter" platform of using the federal budget surplus to bolster Social Security and provide prescription drug help to the elderly through Medicare.
Ashcroft has lobbied hard to use the surplus for tax cuts and has sponsored a billto prevent Congress from raiding Social Security to pay for other spending. He alsofavors letting local school districts decide how to spend federal education money.
In a state where even proposals for spending tobacco settlement money getcaught up in the abortion debate, look for that issue to rear its head. Carnahan favorsabortion-rights and Ashcroft is staunchly anti-abortion.
Early polling indicates the Ashcoft-Carnahan contest, perhaps second only to the New York Senate race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Rick Lazio in terms of competitiveness, is too close too call.
In the race for the governor's mansion, Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Talent facestwo-time Democratic state Treasurer Bob Holden. According to a February Mason-Dixon poll, that race is also too close to call with 30 percent of voters undecided.
Looming issues for the fall campaign are finding ways to fund new highwayconstruction, deciding how to spend the state's share of the tobacco settlement, anddetermining what to do about the troubled Kansas City and St. Louis school districts.
Holden proposes using the state's $6.7 billion share of the tobacco settlement toprovide prescription drug coverage for the elderly. Under his plan, people over 65 whoearn between $10,000 and $50,000 annually would receive complete coverage after thefirst $1,000 spent on prescriptions.
Talent's press secretary, Michelle Dimarob, said the Republican doesn't want toearmark the money because priorities may change over the course of the 25year payment schedule.
Another hot issue in the governors' race is education. The St. Louis City School District is on the brink of losing its accreditation--an embarrassment that Kansas City schools suffered last fall. Policy Director Patrick Lynn says Holden wants to see how a key court case will turn out before addressing the crisis. In the interim, Holden wants individual schools to give parents report cards detailing how well a school is meeting state standards. Missouri already does this to some extent, but Holden would expand it.
Talent has proposed increasing state funding for education by diverting gamblingmoney directly to a fund for local school districts, rather than using it to replace generalrevenue appropriations for schools. He also wants to require schools to teach 3rdgraders adequate reading skills before promoting them.
In the legislature, Democrats have long enjoyed control. But recent years haveseen their majorities dwindle: They had a mere 18-16 edge in the State Senate this past session and, with an absence, a four seat edge in the House.
Republicans are optimistic they will take at least one of the chambers. HouseDemocrats have privately complained that weakness at the top of their ticket (Vice President Al Gore and Holden) may trickle down and cost them seats in the legislature.But the makeup of the ticket may not matter: urban areas in Missouri are infamous for ticket-splitting.