The Buzz

Roy Blunt is `fighting for his political life’

Kander (left), Blunt
Kander (left), Blunt

Larry Sabato and his University of Virginia Center for Politics has moved Missouri’s Senate race from “leans Republican” to “tossup.”

The center’s analysis:

Our one other change comes in the Senate, where Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) is fighting for his political life. Both Democrats and Republicans now view this race as a Toss-up, and we’re moving it from Leans Republican to reflect that consensus.

Missouri was once a major presidential bellwether state, voting for the winning candidate all but one time from 1904 to 2004. But over the last decade, the state has drifted away from the national average and become more Republican at the presidential level, to the point where in 2012 it had its biggest Republican lean relative to the nation since the Civil War.

However, the state is still capable of electing Democrats down the ballot. Even while Mitt Romney won the Show Me State by nine points in 2012, Gov. Jay Nixon (D) and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D) both won reelection by double digits. There are still lots of places in Missouri that are comfortable voting for Democrats down the ballot, including large swathes of the state outside of greater St. Louis and Kansas City (the areas to which Clinton’s presidential strength will largely be confined).

This year, polls suggest Trump holds a comfortable lead, but state Attorney General Chris Koster (D) has at least a coin flip’s chance of winning the governorship, and Secretary of State Jason Kander (D) now appears to have roughly even odds of beating Blunt. The New York Times reported last week that Kander is running slightly ahead of Blunt in internal polling, something we have also heard.

Kander, a veteran, ran perhaps the best ad of the entire cycle, and Blunt is struggling with being an insider candidate in an outsider kind of year. Blunt’s son, a lobbyist, is running his campaign, a connection that is causing his campaign headaches. Like Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), who we also recently downgraded to Toss-up, Blunt has frustrated national Republicans, who believe both incumbents have not run strong enough campaigns in a difficult environment.

Ultimately, this race might be something of a re-run of Arizona’s highly competitive Senate race in 2012. In that open-seat content, ex-Surgeon General Richard Carmona (D) was locked in a very tight race with Rep. Jeff Flake (R) and ran ahead of Obama statewide, but the state’s Republican tinge allowed Flake to get over the finish line. However, it’s an incomplete comparison: for one, Blunt is an incumbent, and Missouri has more of a history of electing Democratic senators than Arizona (Missouri currently has a Democratic senator, while Arizona hasn’t elected one since 1988). In any event, Trump coattails could be helpful to Blunt, but there will be at least some Trump-Kander voters.