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Metzl Makes It a Race in Missouri

Once considered a shoo-in to win the open-seat House race in Missouri’s 5th district, former Kansas City Mayor Emanuel Cleaver has run into a tougher-than-expected Democratic primary challenge from former Council on Foreign Relations Fellow Jamie Metzl.

Cleaver, who served as Kansas City mayor from 1991 to 1999, remains the favorite in the Aug. 3 race to replace retiring Rep. Karen McCarthy (D). But even his supporters admit they have a fight on their hands.

“Cleaver may be everywhere with two people and Metzl is everywhere with 20 people,” said Jackson County Legislator Scott Burnett, who is backing Cleaver.

“Forty percent of the people that are policy wonks appreciate Metzl’s detailed policy plans,” added Burnett. “Sixty percent know that Cleaver is a people person, a person that can bring groups together.”

He predicted a 55 percent to 45 percent victory for Cleaver. Even coming within single digits of Cleaver seemed a far-fetched proposition for Metzl just three months ago.

“We are encouraged about where we are,” said Metzl. “People are telling me that they are seeing me everywhere and they are not seeing my opponent anywhere.”

Cleaver said that he was not surprised by the current state of the race, noting that before he announced his candidacy, Metzl had already raised $400,000.

“For me to have thought he would not run an aggressive race would be an act of political naivete of the highest level,” Cleaver said.

Metzl, who grew up in Kansas City, moved to the district from Washington, D.C., last summer to undertake a primary challenge to McCarthy, who was struggling through staff departures and problems with alcohol.

McCarthy decided not to seek a sixth term in December, which briefly brightened Metzl’s prospects. But Cleaver made it clear he would run less than a month later — apparently all but ending the primary when he announced in early February.

The district, which is entirely located in Jackson County and anchored in Kansas City, tilts heavily Democratic. Then-Vice President Al Gore won 60 percent there in 2000, 13 points better than he did statewide.

Five Republicans are seeking the seat including, Jeanne Lilig-Patterson, who has significant personal wealth.

The real fight in this race is between Metzl and Cleaver.

Due to Cleaver’s widespread name identification, Metzl media consultant Anita Dunn said that for all intents and purposes the former mayor is an incumbent in this race.

“He is running a Rose Garden strategy,” said Dunn. “He is declining to engage his opponent and was pretending Metzl didn’t exist until recently.”

As for Metzl, Dunn called him “every incumbent’s nightmare.”

“This is a guy who never stops working, is well-versed on issues and has good roots in the community,” she added.

Cleaver responded that Metzl has run a negative campaign, talking about “everything but my wife and children” on the stump.

The primary has only begun to ramp up in recent days, as both candidates have largely focused on raising money to this point.

In his first quarter of active fundraising, Cleaver brought in a solid $280,000 with $267,000 on hand.

Cleaver received significant financial support from the Congressional Black Caucus in the period; he took in $5,000 from the CBC political action committee while six members of the group chipped in $1,000 each for the campaign.

Metzl, too, has been very impressive on the fundraising front.

Through March 31, Metzl had raised $576,000 with $485,000 left to spend.

Both men are beginning to spend their stockpiles on television campaigns.

Cleaver hit the air first last Friday with an ad produced by Marius Penczner detailing his work as mayor.

“A lot of people talk about the economy and jobs, but I have done more than talk,” Cleaver says in the ad. “As mayor I made job creation my top priority. As your Congressman I will do the same.”

Metzl went on television Tuesday with a 30-second spot designed to introduce him to voters.

The ad details how his parents fled the Nazis in Europe and “found a land of opportunity in Kansas City.”

A narrator notes that Metzl worked for both the late Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan (D) and former President Bill Clinton.

“We can be a land of opportunity again, for families like mine and families like yours,” says Metzl at the commercial’s close.

Metzl’s television campaign comes roughly one month after he began airing radio ads attacking Cleaver on character issues.

That ad noted that Cleaver had failed to pay back taxes on a car wash he owned.

Cleaver’s car wash has emerged as a major issue in recent days as the Kansas City Star reported that a loan the former mayor received to finance the purchase of the business appeared to stretch the legal limits imposed on such transactions.

The paper also reported that Cleaver did not have workman’s compensation insurance for his employees until recently, a violation of Missouri state law.

Cleaver said that voters never ask him about the car wash, adding: “I don’t think the people of this district are going to make a decision [on that issue].”

The allegations, however, seem likely to aid Metzl in his attempts to make the race a referendum on Cleaver.

“I believe that anybody that seeks elective office needs to submit themselves to the highest level of scrutiny,” said Metzl. “We deserve elected officials who are 100 percent accountable.”

Although Metzl has clearly made up some ground on Cleaver, the task before him remains daunting due to the makeup of the 5th district.

The district is roughly 25 percent black, according to the 2000 Census, but in a Democratic primary blacks are expected to comprise roughly one-third of the electorate.

Cleaver, who is black, remains a high-profile figure in the community, as he is the pastor at the St. James United Methodist Church, which has more than 2,000 parishioners in Kansas City.

Even in his successful mayoral races, however, Cleaver failed to win a majority of white votes in the more suburban portions of Kansas City. Cleaver held an event in that area Wednesday and said he left an all-white crowd of 150 “cheering.”

In order to have any chance at knocking off Cleaver, Metzl would have to nearly sweep the white vote in the district while trying to keep his deficit among black voters manageable, according to knowledgeable state Democrats.