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Under the Radar: TV Watching Inspired Democrat’s Political Run

Editor’s note: With this edition, Roll Call reintroduces the Under the Radar column, which spotlights long-shot candidates for House and Senate. It will appear in this space every Tuesday until Election Day.

Like many great political careers, Richard Monroe’s (D) began on his couch, while watching television, soon after quitting his job.

[IMGCAP(1)]Days after taking early retirement from the Justice Department, Monroe sat there watching President Bush deliver a speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee. Monroe can still recall the two sentences uttered by Bush at the event that ultimately led him down the road toward an improbable challenge this year against House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.): “Listen, the stakes in November are high. Prosperity and peace are in the balance.”

“Well, that got me off the couch because we didn’t have either,” Monroe, a first-time candidate, said on Monday. “I called around and nobody else of any notoriety was running, so I decided I’d do it. And here we are.”

But since then, the former federal prosecutor and judge advocate general jokes that the political honeymoon has faded somewhat and that the tough realities of campaigning have set in. There’s money to be raised and the prospects of knocking off such a powerful lawmaker are not as plausible as they perhaps seemed on Feb. 8.

“The last time a Democrat won in this district, I was 5 years old and I’m now 55. You look at this district, looking at the history — it doesn’t look like a good bet,” Monroe conceded. “I’ve never run for office before [and] I’ve certainly learned a lot.”

Through July 16, Blunt had raised more than $2 million and was going into the homestretch with about $670,000 in the bank. Monroe took in about $27,500 through the Democratic primary, loaning his campaign about $11,000, and had about $2,300 left over — roughly what some candidates pay for election night catering.

“I’ve not raised nearly enough,” the long-shot candidate said.

Still, despite the steep odds, Monroe insists he’s not “crazy” and that he has a clear path to victory on Nov. 4. He touts a July poll paid for by his campaign and expects Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) heavy presence in the Show Me State to give him a boost, as well as Constitution and Libertarian Party candidates, whom Monroe predicts will siphon off 5 percent of the Blunt vote — which would still likely leave Blunt with a healthy lead.

Monroe’s SurveyUSA poll, conducted July 7-9, suggests that Blunt could be vulnerable, but not necessarily by a Democrat. The survey, which interviewed 600 adults and had a 4.9-point margin of error, showed that 49 percent of those polled had an unfavorable opinion of Blunt.

But it also showed a generic Republican beating a generic Democrat in the district, 56 percent to 35 percent. Blunt, who was first elected 12 years ago, has never taken less than 65 percent of the vote.

In five re-election attempts, he’s won more than 70 percent of the electorate. President Bush got 62 percent of the vote in the district in 2000 and 67 percent in 2004.

“I’m running as what I would call a ‘moderate Democrat,’ although in the 7th district that makes me a flaming liberal,” Monroe said. “But I think [Obama] will help me because of voter registration and Obama has a major office in Joplin and a major office in Springfield and field offices all over the district.”

“For every person that won’t vote for Obama because of his race, there will be five more that’ll vote this time,” he added. “I think if I can pull 46 to 47 percent of the vote, I can win.”

But with so many conservatives in the district, Monroe admits “there are probably 40 percent of the people who just won’t vote for me.”

Blunt’s political lieutenants suggested Monday that they are paying little attention to Monroe’s challenge and rebutted claims that either Obama or Monroe will do well either in the state or in Blunt’s southwestern Missouri district.

“Congressman Blunt has said often that he welcomes Sen. Obama in Missouri as much as possible because the more he campaigns, the more Missourians are likely to get to know him and are not going to like what they see,” spokeswoman Burson Taylor Snyder said on Monday. “Missourians are all about substance over style — it is after all the Show Me State, [and] we don’t feel like Sen. Obama is going to give Mr. Monroe much of a leg up at all.”

With no money in the bank and few fundraising prospects, Monroe is hopeful the cash-bloated Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee may run to his rescue.

“This is the year to get Roy Blunt. He’s intensely unpopular,” Monroe said. “They’ve got $54 million, so they can spare some down the road.”