Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.) may soon be drowning in a sea of options, not least of which is to become the second Member of Congress in as many months to make a clean break for academia.
The popular six-term lawmaker is rumored to be near the top of a list to run the University of Missouri, the Show Me State’s flagship higher-education system, and if he leaves Congress before the end of his term there will be a special election to replace him. While sources in the state claim he is hardly a shoo-in, Hulshof also is considered a top-tier Republican Senate candidate in 2010, should Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) decide not to run for a fifth term.
Hulshof declined to speak with Roll Call last week regarding his future job prospects, but it’s not unreasonable to imagine that at least part of Hulshof’s calculus is whether he’ll want to battle a fellow House Member in four years. The next round of redistricting after 2010 will reflect the fast-moving population shift to the west and south; despite average population growth in Missouri during recent years, one Member of the state’s House delegation will likely find himself unemployed.
And many state political watchers say Hulshof is high up on the list of those whose Members are in jeopardy.
“It’s probably going to be [Hulshof’s district] or Rep. Russ Carnahan’s [D] district that will suffer the most when they cut a seat,” said James Endersby, a political science professor at the Columbia campus of the University of Missouri, which is located in Hulshof’s district.
While most political observers agree that Hulshof’s seat is safe as long as he holds it, should both the Congressman and the university decide he’s a good fit for the president’s post, Endersby said Republican domination in the district becomes less certain.
“He hasn’t had significant political opposition in the past couple of terms,” Endersby said. “It’s a very diverse district; it’s a district that has trended Republican, but it does have a lot of Democrats in it.”
Until not too long ago, it also was a solidly Democratic district. Taking up roughly the northeast corner of the state — not including the St. Louis metropolitan area — the 9th district patches together outlying suburban areas and primarily rural farming communities. Hulshof’s moderate conservatism pairs well with the district, Endersby said, where party affiliation runs a close second to an ability to corral farm payments and other federal handouts.
Until Hulshof knocked him off in 1996 by roughly 6,000 votes, the seat was held for 10 terms by ex-Rep. Harold Volkmer (D), a pro-gun rights former state assistant attorney general and state lawmaker.
“Before Hulshof, it was Harold Volkmer, a very conservative Democrat big on bringing back agriculture subsidies,” Endersby said. “All those things are going to continue.”
“It’s difficult to think that it would be a true suburban Republican or Democrat, even though there’s lots of suburban voters in the district,” he predicted.
House Democrats declined to discuss specifics on a potential open-seat opportunity in the district, suggesting that the campaign committee will wait for a Hulshof announcement before any decisions will be publicized.
“While we don’t know what Hulshof will decide, what we do know is that Missourians are hungry for change,” said Ryan Rudominer, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Democrats have held this seat before, and we certainly look forward to holding it again.”
But a state GOP operative said a Republican with a profile similar to Hulshof’s would enjoy equal popularity in a district that President Bush won in 2000 with 55 percent of the vote and four years later with 59 percent.
Of the half-dozen or so names floated by mid-Missouri media outlets, the operative said two potential GOP candidates would be heavily favored if there’s a vacancy: Greg Steinhoff, who works in the governor’s office, and county judge Kevin Crane.
Should Hulshof retire, the operative said state law does not require the governor to call a primary to select nominees for a special election. Instead, district party committees choose their nominee, which could make the winnowing-down process more a coronation than an electoral contest.
What effect Hulshof’s pending decision has on his 2010 plans remains unclear, other than he “would be out of politics” for the time being, the operative said. “There’s no guarantee” Hulshof will get the university job, the source added, despite a recent very public endorsement by powerful former Sen. John Danforth (R-Mo.).
There also is increasing skepticism that Bond will actually retire in 2010. Despite a move to the minority, the source also said that Bond continues to enjoy his work. And a recent much-publicized accident in Washington, D.C., further belies such retirement rumors, the source said.
“Any guy that gets hit by a car and just walks away?” the operative said. “That’s pretty good for a 68-year-old guy.”