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MO-03: Martin Tries to Make Race Competitive

MO-03: Martin Tries to Make Race Competitive

By Erin McPike and Scott Conroy - October 7, 2010


ST. LOUIS, Mo. - Discrepancies over how close the race is in Missouri's 3rd District between Democratic incumbent Russ Carnahan and Republican challenger Ed Martin shows just how unclear and fluid the battle for the House is this year.

Martin is an aggressive campaigner whose impressive showing in fundraising and visibility in his district has gotten the attention of the national GOP, the National Republican Congressional Committee.

A leading Republican strategist in Washington, D.C. who is close to Martin said Martin is a great candidate, but that a Martin victory would mean the size of the GOP victory this November would reach into the 60-seat pickup range.

Available polling on the race shows Martin to behind Carnahan by double digits, and RealClearPolitics rates the seat as "Likely Democratic."

The attorney and former chief of staff to former Gov. Matt Blunt, however, was elevated on Thursday to the top level of the NRCC's three-tiered "Young Guns" program for recruited candidates.

In a press release announcing the move, the NRCC advised, "By advancing to the program's top tier, Martin has proven his ability to build a winning campaign and achieve substantial fundraising goals. With an anti-incumbent sentiment sweeping throughout Missouri, Martin is poised to pose a strong challenge" to Carnahan.

But a Democratic operative with ties to Carnahan's campaign pointed out that there are 80 Republican candidates in the GOP's Young Guns program, and not all of them are receiving funding from the NRCC. Neither the NRCC nor the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is spending money on the air in the race right now, although the NRA has a paid staffer on the ground for Martin.

In an interview in his office on Wednesday, Martin said, "Before the bottom fell out for the national issues, there was a pretty healthy number of people that said, ‘Russ Carnahan's not paying much attention here.'"

But Carnahan represents former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt's former congressional district and is pushing his incumbency. Yard signs scattered through Missouri's 3rd District read "Russ Carnahan delivers for us."

At the time of the last fundraising report on July 14, Carnahan's war chest was less than $100,000 larger than Martin's. Then, Carnahan had about $665,000 in the bank.

Martin raised more than $400,000 in the third fundraising quarter and has more than $700,000 on hand.

Democratic operatives in the state concede it's a tough year, but they don't believe the race is as tight as Martin suggests.

"Ed Martin talks a good game, but at the end of the day he doesn't deliver," a Missouri Democratic strategist said. The strategist also noted that as Carnahan's sister, Robin, the secretary of state, campaigns against Republican Rep. Roy Blunt in the open Senate race, "Martin is doing Blunt a service by trying to tarnish the Carnahan name."

Nevertheless, Carnahan's campaign is taking Martin's threat seriously.

A TV ad the Carnahan campaign is airing hits Martin for his employment in former Gov. Blunt's administration and notes that the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington labeled him as one of the most corrupt candidates in the country.

The campaign is running a web site, EdHackmanMartin.com, to detail Martin's time in the Blunt administration and his role in a controversy that showed Blunt staffers using their official equipment for political advocacy.

Still, in Fenton, a town split between congressional districts in the St. Louis area, Republican Mayor Dennis Hancock thinks the climate could sweep Martin in.

A Chrysler plant in the area shut its doors last year, and a TV spot he launched this week hits Carnahan on the stimulus and on the auto bailout, noting that the closure of the local Chrysler plant moved local jobs to Mexico.

As Hancock put it, "A lot of auto workers feel let down by the administration."

Erin McPike and Scott Conroy are national political reporters for RealClearPolitics. Erin can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Scott can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com

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