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Blunt Aids Hulshof in Missouri

Four years after Rep. Kenny Hulshof (R-Mo.) made way for House Minority Whip Roy Blunt’s (R-Mo.) son in the 2004 gubernatorial election, the Show Me State’s first father appears to be making good on a promise to help his House colleague win the governor’s mansion this fall — a “critically important” crutch that Hulshof likely will lean on considerably in the coming weeks.

“Messaging, fundraising, organization — Roy brings a lot to the table, in terms of assets for Kenny,” Jared Craighead, executive director of the Missouri Republican Party, said Monday. “Roy’s support is critically important.”

Blunt’s office declined to speculate as to whether political quid pro quo is at play, other than to say that “Blunt is very committed to helping Congressman Hulshof.”

Still, Craighead and other Missouri Republicans surveyed by Roll Call on Monday say the House GOP leader continues to lend his political muscle to the struggling Hulshof campaign, perhaps payback for Hulshof’s decision to make way in 2004 for now-Gov. Matt Blunt (R), who is retiring.

According to poll results published two weeks ago by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Hulshof was down 7 points to state Attorney General Jay Nixon (D), a startling snapshot considering Hulshof’s commanding wins in his district since he was first elected to Congress in 1996.

Given Hulshof’s likely rough road ahead, Craighead repeatedly stressed Blunt’s support in the race’s final weeks, particularly in his Republican-dominated southwestern Missouri district, where Hulshof likely will need to run up wide margins against Nixon on Election Day.

The only problem: Hulshof lost Blunt’s district in the Republican primary to state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, despite a rare pre-primary endorsement from the House leader.

“When Hulshof entered the race, he was more than 20 points behind Steelman in [Blunt’s] 7th Congressional district,” a GOP source said. “Once Blunt endorsed … Kenny Hulshof in the primary, that gap really started to close. In the end, Hulshof was only down just over 3 points against Steelman, who is a local, known candidate.”

John Hancock, Hulshof’s campaign manager, said the campaign was disappointed — albeit not surprised — that the lawmaker lost Blunt’s district in the primary. Still, Hancock agreed Blunt’s endorsement in the primary was “very helpful” overall when Hulshof defeated Steelman 49 percent to 45 percent statewide.

“It was something we had accounted for: Our primary opponent was from that part of the state, and between her time in the state Senate and her statewide office, she’d been advertising on Springfield television for a decade,” Hancock said. “It’s fairly unprecedented for an incumbent Member of Congress to make an endorsement in a contested primary.”

“We thought it was a possibility. You certainly don’t go into an election and plan to lose the most Republican district in the state,” Hancock added. “But we had a strategy for winning the primary that would’ve allowed us to lose the 7th Congressional district narrowly, which is in fact what happened.”

Blunt continues to be particularly helpful with fundraising, Hancock said, and traveled with Hulshof throughout his district during the summer. Hancock also said that “his people in that part of the state have been very key components of our efforts.”

“He has a very strong political infrastructure in southwest Missouri, and it’s very helpful,” Hancock added.

Craighead said Hulshof’s performance in Blunt’s Republican-dominated district alone could determine whether Hulshof finds himself out of work in January.

President Bush took Blunt’s district with 67 percent of the vote in 2004 and 62 percent in 2000. And since first winning his seat with 65 percent of the vote in 1996, Blunt has never garnered less than 70 percent.

“The 7th Congressional district is a critically important area of the state: If we don’t generate a groundswell of support and get our people to the polls, then our candidates typically are not successful,” Craighead said. “Roy’s doing everything he possibly can to be helpful.”

But Hancock hinted that Hulshof’s fate may not entirely lie in Blunt’s hands. Presidential nominees Sens. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) are competing in the Midwestern battleground, and heavy turnout for the two presidential nominees may wind up being the deciding factor in the Nixon-Hulshof matchup.

“Historically, the governor’s race tends to trend with the presidential,” Hancock said. “If John McCain carries the state, it would be good news for Kenny Hulshof.”

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