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K.C. Mayor Is Urged to Challenge Graves

Well before the 2006 midterms, House Democrats heavily recruited Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes (D) to challenge Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.). But content as mayor, Barnes took a pass and instead became a key supporter to the campaign of now-Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

Although McCaskill won — a victory that seemed improbable to many Missouri political observers just two years ago — another significant development became apparent on Election Day: although only marginally, McCaskill defeated then-Sen. Jim Talent (R) in Graves’ seemingly staunchly Republican district. That statistic has Democrats convinced that Graves may be vulnerable.

“We won [the 6th district] against Jim Talent,” said Steve Glorioso, a Barnes spokesman who also worked on McCaskill’s campaign. “[McCaskill] won by 1.4 percent, but she beat a well-respected, right-of-center Senator. But Sam [Graves] is far right of center.”

Since then, Barnes’ telephone has been ringing off the hook with recruiting calls from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. She’s reportedly been shaking all the right hands in Washington, D.C., regularly touring the district and has all but uttered the words: “I’m running.”

Really though, the writing appears to be on the wall: Graves is a target, the Democratic field is being cleared for Barnes and state Democrats are honing their talking points linking Graves not only with President Bush, but with Missouri’s beleaguered Republican governor, Matt Blunt.

“We would absolutely love to see Mayor Barnes take a run at [Graves’] seat,” said Jack Cardetti, a spokesman for the Missouri Democratic Party. “If Gov. Blunt chooses to run for re-election, he will be a drag on the entire Republican ticket — especially those he is seen as extremely close allies with, including Sam Graves.”

Although the DCCC passed on the opportunity to confirm that it is heavily recruiting Barnes, a committee aide said that “we believe she would be a very strong candidate.” Barnes’ camp — stopping short of saying a final decision has been made — confirmed that the DCCC currently is courting the mayor, picking up where the committee left off after the previous campaign cycle.

“The mayor is leaving office May 1,” Glorioso said. “She’s said she’d make an announcement after May 1. She thought about running in 2006 and was the target of recruitment, but she didn’t want to interrupt the last two years of her term.”

He added: “It started up again right after the McCaskill victory in November.”

Democrats say Graves’ voting record is too closely associated with White House priorities, making it out of step with a district that has elected Republican and Democratic House Members during the past half century.

“He a typical rubber stamp ally of President Bush,” Cardetti said. “Even in the [House] Democrats’ first 100 hours — when a lot of the Republican delegation voted for things like student loans and homeland security funding — Sam Graves stood with the president and against those important priorities.”

Democrats will continue to attempt to associate Graves with Gov. Blunt, the son of House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). The younger Blunt recently has become the subject of accusations he helped cover up a sexual harassment scandal involving his agriculture secretary.

And Democrats likely will have plenty of press clippings to thumb through linking the two. About two years ago, Missouri Democrats cried foul when reports surfaced indicating that Gov. Blunt awarded millions of dollars in plum state contracts to Graves’ family members and staff. State Democrats alerted federal law enforcement authorities to the deals, but to no avail.

State Republicans deny that Gov. Blunt’s current troubles will drag down the entire 2008 GOP ticket in the Show Me State. After all, they say, since his first narrow election in 2000, Graves has crushed his opponents, garnering 60 percent or more of the overall votes.

“The Democrats can try and recruit whomever they can — they certainly are not going to challenge Sam Graves,” said Paul Sloca, a spokesman for the Missouri Republican Party. “For any Democrat, it’s going to quite an uphill battle.”

The numbers would seem to bear out that argument. Graves has gone unchallenged in the Republican primary since 2000. His district, which stretches from the suburban Kansas City north through St. Joseph, birthplace of the Pony Express, and taking up the northwest portion of the state, turned out heavily for Bush in 2004.

“Even independent voters in that district lean conservative,” Sloca said.

Graves has shown himself to be a prolific fundraiser, easily raising more than $1 million is each of his four election cycles. Democrats counter that Barnes’ fundraising potential is strong and another reason she is being heavily recruited.

Despite the apparent rosy outlook for Graves, when pressed Sloca acknowledged that Gov. Blunt’s recent bad press certainly isn’t helping things for state Republicans. Still, he said there’s plenty of time for it to blow over between now and Election Day 2008.

“Anytime there is negative press, obviously it has an impact,” Sloca said. “But this far out from an election, this is a very short-term” problem.

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