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MO Dominoes Are Dem Opportunities

Missouri Governor Matt Blunt's decision to retire at the end of this term could produce a domino effect that helps a former Democratic rival win a seat in Congress. Blunt's exit prompted Republican Rep. Kenny Hulshof to enter the race for governor this week, leaving his 9th District seat for a chance at the top post in Jefferson City.

Hulshof would have been difficult to defeat, as his district gave President Bush 59% of the vote in 2004. But the DCCC had already been spending money on radio ads in the district before Hulshof announced his retirement, and they're likely to continue targeting the open seat.

Prior to Hulshof's decision, the leading Democratic challenger was State Rep. Judy Baker, whose lack of name recognition and financial support may have been too much to overcome against the 6-term incumbent. But the open seat produced much excitement among Democrats, and caused many candidates more well-known than Baker to consider a run.

One such candidate is former State House Speaker Steve Gaw, whom the Columbia Tribune reports is likely to enter the race. Gaw was first elected to the Legislature in 1992, representing all of Randolph County and parts of three others. He was elected Speaker in 1996 after just four years in the State House. In 2000, he ran unsuccessfully for secretary of state, losing 51%-45% to Matt Blunt, who used that post as a springboard to the governorship. Gaw has not run for office since his loss to Blunt, and now Blunt's exit could be the impetus of his return.

Other potential Democratic challengers include former Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell, who was elected to the 2nd highest post in the state in 2000. The Tribune reported, however, that Maxwell is unlikely to run. Wes Shoemyer, a socially conservative, first-term state senator, is still considering a race.

Potential Republican successors to Hulshof include Greg Steinhoff, the director of the Department of Economic Development; State Rep. Bob Onder; State Rep. Joe Smith; and Jason Van Eaton, a former aide to Sen. Kit Bond, the Tribune reports.

The expansive 9th District includes all of 22 counties, as well as the university city of Columbia, the outskirts of the St. Louis metropolitan area, and the entire northeastern section of the state. Democrats were elected here for 34 years before Hulshof first won in 1996. The mix of urban, suburban and rural voters makes this a difficult race for any candidate to win, but will likely remain on national Democrats' target list.

-- Kyle Trygstad