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Poll: Missouri 9th May Be Waste of Democrats’ Efforts

As House Democrats dream of expanding the fall playing field into districts where they haven’t been competitive for years, they are paying close attention to Missouri’s 9th district seat, which Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R) is vacating to run for governor.

If Democrats are going to create another political wave like they did in 2006, when they won 30 seats and seized control of the House for the first time in a dozen years, they are going to need to win districts like the 9th, a largely rural seat that extends west and north from the St. Louis metropolitan area. Hulshof has held the district easily since knocking off incumbent Harold Volkmer (D) in 1996, and President Bush has rung up big totals there in the past two White House elections.

Even before Hulshof announced his intention to run for governor, national Democrats have talked about targeting his district, describing it as the kind of place that could be receptive to the party’s call for change. But a new poll conducted exclusively for Roll Call suggests that the Democrats may be better off hunting for long-shot pickup opportunities elsewhere.

In a matchup of the two candidates competing to replace Hulshof, Blaine Luetkemeyer (R), a former state tourism director and ex-legislator, led state Rep. Judy Baker (D), 50 percent to 38 percent. The poll of 634 likely voters was taken Sept. 1-2 by SurveyUSA, an automated polling firm.

While the results may be disappointing for Baker and the Democrats, she is running ahead of the party’s presidential standard- bearer, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.). In a trial presidential heat, Obama trailed Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) 60 percent to 36 percent. That’s an even worse showing than those of the two previous Democratic presidential nominees, Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) in 2004 and then-Vice President Al Gore in 2000. Gore took 42 percent of the vote in the 9th district and Kerry won 41 percent.

There is little doubt that the district leans right: 45 percent of poll respondents described themselves as conservative, 38 percent were self-described moderates and just 13 percent identified themselves as liberal. Self-described independent voters broke 4-3 for Luetkemeyer.

That conservative lean may also explain why Bush’s job-approval rating was higher in the 9th district than it is nationwide: 42 percent of those questioned said they approved of his job performance; 50 percent disapproved. The job- approval rating for Congress was a dismal 12 percent.

Before the Aug. 5 Democratic primary, some party strategists privately suggested that Baker’s principal opponent for the nomination, former state Speaker Steve Gaw, a conservative Democrat in Volkmer’s mold, had a better profile for the district and might be a stronger general election candidate than Baker. But Baker, a political newcomer whose candidacy was fueled by support from EMILY’s List and liberal grass-roots activists, beat Gaw by 13 points in the primary.

But Baker may have the ability to increase her level of support. She is not well-known, according to the poll: 33 percent of voters were neutral when asked their opinion of Baker, and 15 percent had no opinion at all. Thirty-one percent said they had a favorable view of Baker, and 21 percent viewed her unfavorably.

Luetkemeyer was only slightly better known, with a 38 percent to 18 percent favorable/unfavorable rating. But 31 percent said they had a neutral view of the Republican nominee, and 14 percent had no opinion.