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Missouri Breaks for DSCC

Senate Democrats believe they’ve found the candidate to unseat Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.) in 2006; Republicans say Claire McCaskill is just another typical Democrat who is out of step with mainstream Show-Me state values.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is touting McCaskill — Missouri’s elected state auditor — as an example of candidate-recruiting success that DSCC officials claim has far outpaced that of Senate Republicans.

“(McCaskill’s) decision to get into the race is the latest piece of good news in our effort to get more Democrats elected to the Senate,” DSCC Communications Director Phil Singer said last Tuesday, the day McCaskill announced her bid. “There are many Republicans who are going to go to sleep a lot more nervous than when they woke up today.”

John Hancock, a Republican political consultant and spokesman for the Missouri Republican Party, was nonplussed with the Democrats’ choice to challenge Talent, who reported having $3.4 million in cash on hand at the end of June.

“The only thing that’s different today from yesterday is that we now know the name of the Democrat candidate who’s going to lose to Jim Talent,” Hancock said. “The difficulty (McCaskill) is going to find in this state is her views and those of the people that recruited her are not consistent with the views and values of mainstream Missourians.”

McCaskill, who narrowly lost a bid for governor last year after defeating incumbent Gov. Bob Holden in the Democratic primary, announced her candidacy in her rural, southeastern Missouri hometown of Houston, in front of the feed mill where her father once worked.

McCaskill earned her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Missouri, once clerking for the Missouri Court of Appeals. She served in the state House from 1983 to 1988, and was later elected Jackson County Prosecutor. She became auditor in 1999.

“The reason Auditor McCaskill decided to run is that she has seen too little common sense being exercised in Washington,” campaign spokesman Tony Wyche said. “Special interests have had the run of mill in Washington for far too long, and people like Jim Talent have lost touch with what’s going on out here.”

McCaskill is in the process of making her campaign operational, and has not staked out clear positions on major issues like how she would have voted on the Iraq war resolution, instead basing her candidacy on restoring “common sense” to Washington, Wyche said.

She is critical of Talent’s vote for the energy bill in light of rising gas prices and the tax breaks it included for energy companies, and accuses him of “standing idly by” while Missouri’s Medicaid program took a financial hit from the federal government.

McCaskill supports abortion rights, but does not believe social issues such as abortion and gay marriage are of primary concern to voters, said Wyche, who was a spokesman for the woman Talent defeated to win the Senate seat in 2002, former Sen. Jean Carnahan (D-Mo.).

Talent is staying out of the fray at present, though he does have a fundraiser scheduled for Sept. 19 in St. Louis with Vice President Cheney. The Senator has yet to formally announce for re-election, but is expected to do so early next year.

“Sen. Talent is focused on his official responsibilities,” Talent spokesman Rich Chrismer said in a written statement. “He’s working very hard with both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate on behalf of Missouri jobs, health care, law enforcement and our nation’s security.”

Besides Missouri, the DSCC believes the political climate is ripe for the party to make gains in Arizona, Montana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, provided they recruit quality candidates who have statewide name recognition.

Securing McCaskill’s candidacy comes on the heels of Pennsylvania state Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. (D) deciding to challenge Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) for his seat, which the DSCC also describes as a major recruitment coup.

Singer said Republican incumbents in the states that Democrats have targeted are vulnerable because of either a lack of achievement or their record on issues like the move to overhaul Social Security.

Democrats are also in a position to steal Senate seats from the GOP because of the DSCC’s $16.2 million to $8.7 million lead over the National Republican Senatorial Committee in campaign-cash on hand, Singer said.

Republicans dismissed the fundraising difference, while labeling as ridiculous the notion that GOP incumbents are in political trouble.

“We’ve been very closely on pace with fundraising overall, and we’re ahead of where we were last cycle,” NRSC spokesman Brian Nick said. “We’ll continue to move forward in that direction.”

David Winston, a Republican pollster who writes a bimonthly column for Roll Call, said that even if Democrats are able to recruit high- quality candidates, it won’t make a difference unless those candidates offer better ideas than their opponents — something Republicans were able to do when they won control of the House in 1994, Winston said.

“Whatever (Democrats) are saying in terms of candidate recruitment is a smokescreen for their weakness on ideas,” he said.

But Missouri Democrats believe it is McCaskill’s ideas that will be her strength.

Jack Cardetti, spokesman for the Missouri Democratic Party, said this election is going to be about “pocketbook” issues. He said Talent will be hurt by rising gas prices and Republican efforts to overhaul Social Security.

Julia Piscitelli, a Washington, D.C.-based Democratic consultant who has worked in Missouri, said voters there are overwhelmingly concerned with “kitchen table” issues like health care, education and public safety.

Despite a string of GOP victories in statewide and presidential elections, “there’s no reason why Missouri has to be a red state,” she said.