Blunt Plans to Play Minor Role in Son’s Gov. Bid

Posted January 26, 2004 at 5:43pm

When Matt Blunt (R) formally launched his campaign for Missouri governor on the morning of Jan. 14, his father, House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), looked on proudly.

After the kickoff event at a Strafford high school, Matt Blunt’s campaign went on to hit nine more Missouri towns in the next two days. But his father didn’t tag along. Instead, Roy Blunt went straight to the airport to catch a plane to the House GOP leadership’s retreat in Maryland.

“I think that’s a pretty good indication of how this is going to work,” the Whip said in an interview last week. “I don’t think they need me to be very involved.”

Roy Blunt is only the latest in a long line of Members who have anxiously watched their children vie for political office. Many lawmakers’ offspring have cruised into office, reaping the benefits of having a famous last name, but others have suffered from charges of nepotism and have even been hindered by familial associations.

While Roy Blunt is popular in Missouri and is obviously supportive of his son’s candidacy, he does not plan to spend much time out on the stump for Matt, both because the Majority Whip believes his son can run on his own record and because Roy Blunt has his own campaign work to do.

“I’m doing things for Members all over the country,” said Blunt. “I expect my focus to be on growing the majority in the House.”

Just 33 years old, Matt Blunt has already served as Missouri secretary of state for two years and put in a term in the state House before that. But the gubernatorial contest is his biggest race yet, and a victory would propel him further up the state political ladder than his father ever went, as Roy Blunt only rose to secretary of state before winning election to the House in 1996.

Blunt will likely face a competitive contest in trying to unseat current Gov. Bob Holden, who first must defeat state Auditor Claire McCaskill in a potentially tough Democratic primary.

Matt Blunt’s lineage will be invoked when Democrats mount their two most likely lines of attack against him. One will focus on Blunt’s youth and alleged lack of experience, with the implication being that he owes his success so far to nepotism.

The other charge will be that he is a tool of tobacco interests. His brother and campaign manager, Andy Blunt, is a tobacco lobbyist, and Roy Blunt recently married Abigail Perlman, another tobacco lobbyist.

But Republicans in the state believe Matt Blunt has established his own persona effectively enough to deflect such charges.

John Hancock, spokesman for the Blunt campaign, said his boss “has created a very good, strong record for himself” and will run based on that rather than his family name.

“Matt is going to do well on his own accord,” agreed Missouri Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R), who not long ago was also being mentioned as a potential candidate for governor. “Obviously, the Blunt name is well-known and well-respected in Missouri, but Matt will forge his own identity.”

Lawmakers who follow in their parents’ footsteps sometimes have a difficult time distinguishing themselves from their parents. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) is expected to face a tough race this year as she battles perception problems created by the fact that she was appointed to the post by her father (and predecessor), Gov. Frank Murkowski (R).

In 2002, Scott Armey lost the GOP primary to replace his retiring father, then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas). In 2000 a similar fate befell Sam Ewing, who was defeated in the Republican primary race to replace Rep. Tom Ewing (R-Ill.).

Currently, there are no plans for Roy Blunt to do any additional appearances or fundraising events for his son.

“The truth is, if you’re going to be running for governor you need to be able to do that stuff on your own,” said Gregg Hartley, a lobbyist and former chief of staff to Roy Blunt who is close to the entire family.

Hartley added that Matt Blunt probably couldn’t just bank on his family name even if he wanted to. “Most of the people who are going to vote for Matt Blunt haven’t voted for Roy Blunt since 1992,” Hartley said.