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Roy Blunt’s Challenger Tries to Put Him on Defense Over Security

After recent events in Paris and Syria, Kander, Blunt's rival, is trying to make national security his own issue. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
After recent events in Paris and San Bernardino, Blunt’s rival is trying to make national security his own issue. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Sen. Roy Blunt, the Missouri Republican who has served on committees related to the military or intelligence gathering for all but two of his 18 years in Congress, presents himself as a man who knows very well the issues surrounding national security.

But back home in the Show-Me State, his Democratic challenger is testing that perception. Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander’s campaign plans to release a 14-page report Thursday, obtained by Roll Call, which lays out a case, as Kander put it, that Blunt’s “words on these issues are far stronger than his actions.”

Kander’s campaign highlights Blunt’s vote against legislation to fund the Department of Homeland Security, his place among only four others who voted against Ashton B. Carter as secretary of Defense and his missed committee hearings on issues such as the rise of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 30: Jason Kander, democratic Senate candidate from Missouri, is interviewed by CQ Roll Call, October 30, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Kander is playing up his experience as an Army intelligence officer. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

“As a former Army intelligence officer, I know how dangerous it can be for those on the ground to collect some of that intelligence. It is insulting that he would skip multiple hearings,” Kander said in an interview with Roll Call, raising an issue similar to one raised by Sen. Marco Rubio’s opponents on the Republican presidential campaign trail.

In a statement, Burson Snyder, a spokeswoman for Blunt’s campaign, defended the senator’s record on security issues and tied Kander to his party’s leader.

“As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Roy Blunt has a long and established track record of hard work and smart thinking on the toughest national security issues, including ISIS,” she said. “Roy Blunt has been on the side of Missourians and common sense. Jason Kander has been on the side of Obama and his failed policies.”

The attacks against Blunt are not entirely new. But they come as Democrats across the country have tried to flip the script on an issue that has traditionally been owned by Republicans. Just last week, several Democratic candidates used the latest security fears to put their Republican rivals on the defense on guns citing their opposition to legislation that would disallow people on the terrorist watch list to purchase firearms.

“Democrats have worked very hard to earn credibility on these issues by bringing America’s intelligence, diplomatic and military resources to bear,” said Caitlin Legacki, a principal at Precision Strategies who was communications director for the 2012 campaign of Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. “Democrats nationally have showed that this is an issue on which we can win, and it’s an issue where Americans want their elected officials to be thoughtful and responsible with our policy.”

Legacki said “it’s a no-brainer” that national security would be raised by Kander against Blunt given their divergent backgrounds.

Even before dropping its latest document, a move to get media attention by local outlets that will likely be followed by paid advertising in the new year, the Kander campaign had already begun to raise national security as an issue. He has distanced himself from the Obama administration on the Iran deal, which he opposes, and has hit Blunt over his support of tourism industry-backed legislation that would make expand the nation’s visa waiver program. Blunt opposed a measure sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that would have strengthened visa security screenings.

That attack, included in the new report, is a twofer for Kander: It helps him make his national security point and allows him to promote a point central to his campaign that Blunt is too cozy with lobbyists. As Kander put it Wednesday, “If he can’t stand up to a Motel 6 lobbyist, how can he defend us from terrorists?”

Blunt’s campaign has downplayed his lobbyist ties, but along with the recent crescendo of terror attacks — from Paris to California — the volume of questions Blunt is getting on the security issues has risen. During Blunt’s weekly calls with Missouri reporters this week and last, nearly all the questions had to do with concerns about guns and terrorism. Blunt defended his opposition to Feinstein’s bill on Wednesday’s call, saying it did not approach visa security “in a reasonable way.”

“Travel is important and needs to be allowed, but needs to be allowed in a safer way,” Blunt said, pointing to a separate bill he does support that aims to strengthen the visa waiver process for people coming to the U.S. from countries such as Iraq and Syria.

The Missouri Senate race is rated Favored Republican by the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call.


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