Havoc in the Heartland?

Over the past few weeks, several acquaintances have express the opinion that Missouri’s 3rd and 4th Congressional districts may just be the Ones to Watch in the polls (as a friend said…“the gateway to heaven or hell depending on which side you’re on and which way it goes…“). Both districts offer an intriguing set of circumstances in one of the most fascinating election years in memory.

Missouri CD 3: Incumbent Russ Carnahan (D) vs. Ed Martin (R)

Missouri 3 includes the southern part of the City of St. Louis and contains a mix of blue and white-collar voters. Dick Gephardt held this seat since the original lungfish crawled out of the ocean (well…for 20 years) and since 1994 its been in the hands of  Democrat Russ Carnahan. The Carnahan name is Big Stuff in the Show Me State  (click here to read a brief synopsis), and the Cook Political Report pegs this district as a D+7. Carnahan should also benefit from all the media time his sister, Robin Carnahan, will undoubtedly be buying in her bid to win Missouri’s U.S. Senate seat (click here for related post).

So with all that Democratic mojo, why are people still keeping an eye on this district? First of all, many view the population of MO-3 to be a prototype for the slide to the right we’re measuring throughout the nation from conservative Democrats and Independents. Plus, the Carnahan family has it’s detractors even among local Democrats, and some of those most ardent ones are rumored to have both hands on the rug upon which Russ Carnahan stands. And then there’s the Republican challenger, Ed Martin. The former Chief of Staff for Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt  would “bring a bike chain to a playground fight” as one friend explains it. Martin was also affiliated with the Missouri chapter of the Club for Growth and brings some deep pockets with him to the battle. He’s stumbled some  recently (the Post-Dispatch has skewered him for comments concerning President Obama and Cong. Carnahan “taking away that freedom, the freedom, the ultimate freedom, to find your salvation, to get your salvation, and to find Christ for me and you.” While that type of rhetoric probably won him some points with his backers, it makes it tougher for a big breakthrough in this D-leaning area.

Where do they each stand now? Here’s what we discovered:

Missouri CD 3

Date of Poll: 8/17/2010
Participants: 1,089 registered voters
Margin of Error: ±2.97%
 PARTY AFFILIATION   
TotalRepublicanDemocratIndependent
CHOICE FOR CONGRESS
Russ Carnahan48.10%12.26%86.73%32.53%
Ed Martin38.83%77.78%7.14%44.89%
Unsure13.07%9.96%6.12%22.58%

As we’ve seen in so many other areas of the nation, Independents are leaning toward the Republican in this race. However, Carnahan is enjoying a 12% boost from GOP voters, and the natural tilt toward Democratic candidates is keeping his head above water at this time. Still, Carnahan remains below 50%, and if Martin gets a toehold, the hill isn’t that steep to climb.

Missouri CD 4: Incumbent Ike Skelton (D) vs Vicky Hartzler (R)

MO 4 encompasses west central part of the state including Kansas City eastern ‘burbs and Jefferson City. This district is tabbed with a R+14 by the Cook Political Report, and the conservative Democrat Ike Skelton has been untouchable here since 1977. But in 2008,  MO 4 supported John McCain with more than 60% of the vote, and this district is a poster child for Big Government discontent, so many are keeping an eye on this race for any signs of havoc in the heartland.

The Republican challenger is Vicky Hartzler, a former state representative and spokesman for the Coalition to Protect Marriage–a group that helped pass by a wide margin a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Skelton has always enjoyed a big crossover vote due to his conservative roots, but has backed the party line on some issues that social conservatives dislike. Will those votes and the current throw-the-bums-out mentality be enough to knock off the venerable Skelton? Cue the poll results…

Missouri CD 4

Date of Poll: 8/17/2010
Participants: 1,207 registered voters
Margin of Error: ±2.82%
 PARTY AFFILIATION   
TotalRepublicanDemocratIndependent
CHOICE FOR CONGRESS
Ike Skelton45.18%26.61%79.23%36.59%
Vicky Hartzler41.73%61.59%15.43%40.55%
Unsure13.09%11.80%5.34%22.87%

We were surprised to not only find this one so close, but that the trends we’ve measured elsewhere are weak here. While it is no surprise that Skelton is receiving a sizable chunk (26+ percent) of the GOP vote, Hartzler’s 15% of the Democratic nod is an eye opener. The small but important lead Hartzler has with Independents–if it stays–is putting this race at the very top of  our Watch List.

While conventional wisdom may dictate that Skelton will pull this one out, there isn’t too much conventional about this year’s elections.

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