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Both sides predict big wins in upcoming elections

October 24, 2002
By: Robert Sandler
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - For all the hoopla, of the U.S. Senate campaign in Missouri this year, those in the know are paying particular attention to the legislative races. For this, party control easily could change in either or both chambers.

A number of factors have made the outcome less certain:

* There are more open races than at any time in recent history because legislative term limits has thrown out dozens of incumbents.

* The margins of control in both chambers are so close that a change in just a few seats can change party control.

* An expected large turnout from the U.S. Senate race could influence several of these races.

The Democratic majority in the House is currently precarious with an 86-76 split. Some Republicans say they are confident they will take control after the election, but others are not so sure.

The Republican majority in the Senate was even tighter in the last session at 18-16. Republicans and Democrats agree it will be difficult for the Democrats to take over, and the Republicans seem likely to pick up at least one seat.

State Democratic Party spokeswoman Nancy Tully said she was confident her party would regain control of the Missouri Senate, and State Republican Party spokesman Scott Baker said he would be shocked if the GOP didn't take over the House.

Term limits have thrown the entire legislature into upheaval, with 12 senators and 71 representatives ineligible to run for re-election. Several representatives who are unable to run for another House term are now running against one another in Senate races.

The Senate, which the Republicans took over two years ago after 54 years of Democratic control, has 17 seats up for election this year. But the major players agree that control will be determined by the outcome of contests in six districts that range from wealthy suburbia to rural farmland.

Both parties agree 15 seats will likely remain held by Republicans while 13 seem safe for Democrats.

Sen. Marvin Singleton, R-Seneca, said he thinks Republicans will likely stay in control of the chamber and even have a good chance to emerge with a three- or four-seat lead. The worst-case scenario, he said, had Republicans winning four of the six seats that are in play.

If that comes true, the GOP would have a 19-15 majority. But Singleton maintained the Republicans have a good chance to win all six seats in contention.

Sen. Steve Stoll, D-Festus, doesn't paint nearly as bright a picture for the Democrats.

"We have a shot at taking back the Senate, getting 18 or possibly tying with 17 votes," Stoll said.

If the Democrats win four of the six contested seats, the Senate would be in a 17-17 tie. Tied votes would then go to Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell, a Democrat, effectively giving control of the Senate to the Democrats.

The last time neither party had a majority in the Senate -- the first few weeks of 2000 -- the Senate adopted rules providing for power sharing between the two parties.

Suburbia

The contest that may be in the highest profile is between Rep. Joan Bray and schoolteacher John Lewis. The upper-income suburban St. Louis County district has been represented for the past 10 years by Republicans.

"That's one that I think a woman with her voting record and her visability on issues wil help her," Stoll said about Bray, but Bray herself isn't so sure.

"We're running scared," Bray said. "We don't see it as done... This is very competitive."

Bray had about $30,000 more in the bank than Lewis, according to reports filed last week with the state Ethics Commission.

Baker, the state GOP spokesman, agreed that it would be a close race.

"It'll be a close one, but it is a Republican district," Baker said. "We hope to hold on to it just because she's a very liberal candidate in a moderate district."

Springfield

Two races that both parties consider key to winning control are in the Springfield area. Southwest Missouri as a whole is thought of as a Republican stronghold, but Democrats say their candidates there give them good opportunities to win.

One seat there, the 20th district, was the subject of controversy when it was created during the redistricting process. The district used to be spread over southeast Missouri but now takes in completely different counties in the southwest part of the state.

At the time, Senate leader Peter Kinder, a Republican, charged that the district was moved just so House Speaker Jim Kreider, a Democrat, could run for the Senate. Term limits prevent Kreider from running for re-election to the House.

Kreider has been successful in the area before, though, having won five House terms in one of the most conservative parts of the state. Democrats are saying if any Democrat has a chance to win in southwest Missouri, it's Kreider -- both because of the name recognition he enjoys as the top House leader and also because of his conservative legislative record.

But Baker said the GOP candidate, Dan Clemens, was working hard to win the seat. Clemens had very little name recognition in the more populous parts of the district and has worked hard to compete with the reigning House speaker, Baker said.

"Our candidate has done a wonderful job really starting from scratch," Baker said. "It's a tough race."

Even so, Kreider has $117,000 on hand according to documents filed last week with the Missouri Ethics Commission. Clemens has $28,000 -- less than one-fourth as much as Kreider.

The other Springfield Senate seat is being contested by Democratic Rep. Craig Hosmer and Republican Rep. Norma Champion. Like Kreider, Hosmer is thought to have as good a chance as any Democrat in the heavily Republican district. Also working for Champion is her status as something of an icon in the area, having hosted a local television program for many years.

That seat was held by Sen. Roseann Bentley, a Republican, for the past eight years. Some Democrats have privately questioned Champion's ability to move legislation, but Baker pointed to her record of 10 years of service in the House.

Champion has built up a lead in fund-raising, having a $40,000 cash-on-hand advantage over Hosmer, according to reports filed last week.

The others

Another race that is facing close scrutiny from both parties is in the northwest part of the state including St. Joseph, a seat which has been held by Democrat Sidney Johnson for the past 12 years.

Veteran Reps. Glenda Kelly, a Democrat, and Charlie Shields, a Republican, both feeling the effects of term limits, are vying for the Senate seat. Both held leadership positions in the House, as Kelly chaired the Appropriations-Corrections Committee while Shields was minority whip.

Shields has twice as much money on hand as Kelly does, according to reports filed last week, but officials from both parties say the race is too close to call.

In northeast Missouri, where lately the political pendulum has swung to the right, Democrats are hoping they can win back a seat they lost in a special election two years ago.

When then-Sen. Joe Maxwell, a Democrat, was elected lieutenant governor, he stepped down from the Senate. John Cauthorn, a Republican, was elected to replace him with 54 percent of the vote. Now challenging Cauthorn is Rep. Sam Berkowitz, D-Memphis.

Baker said he is confident Cauthorn will be re-elected handily. But Tully said the race is on the state Democrats' list of close races.

The other Senate race that the major parties are really fighting for includes Jefferson City and the central part of the state. Jefferson City Reps. Bill Gratz, a Democrat, and Carl Vogel, a Republican, are competing to succeed Larry Rohrbach, R-California, who served 12 years in the Senate.

Gratz said he thinks that by running as a conservative Democrat, he has a good chance to win the seat.

"I think a conservative Democrat such as myself has a very good shot at winning it," he said. Because the new district includes the Democratic-leaning Callaway County, the district is not as staunchly Republican as it used to be, he said.

Vogel did not return calls seeking comment.

Safe seats

Of the seats up for election this year, Republicans feel confident they will win seven districts:

* Rep. Matt Bartle is expected to win the Lee's Summit seat held by term-limited Sen. Bill Kenney, also a Republican.

* Sen. David Klindt is unopposed running for re-election to his seat in Bethany.

* Sen. Sarah Steelman is expected to win a second term representing Rolla.

* Rep. John Griesheimer of Union is favored in the heavily conservative district that stretches all the way into St. Louis County. The district was formerly held by Republican David Klarich, who resigned after session ended to become a member of the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission.

* Rep. Delbert Scott of Lowry City, who served 17 years in the House and twice rose to be minority leader there, is expected to win the seat held by Morris Westfall, R-Halfway.

* Rep. Jon Dolan of Lake St. Louis is expected to take over the seat formerly held by conservative Democrat Ted House of St. Charles. Republicans are very confident they will win the seat, and Democrats don't even list it among their winnable seats.

* Gary Nodler of Joplin, a Republican activist, is unopposed in the contest for the seat held by Marvin Singleton of Seneca for the past 12 years.

Democrats expect they will hold on to four seats:

* Sen. Pat Dougherty of St. Louis City is unopposed in his race for a complete term.

* Charles Wheeler, former mayor of Kansas City, is unopposed in the election to succeed Harry Wiggins, who served 28 years in the Senate.

* Former Rep. Rita Days of St. Louis County has no opponent in the race to replace longtime Sen. John Schneider.

* Sen. Steve Stoll of Festus said he expects to win re-election to a second Senate term.

Singleton said he expected Republicans to win most of the seats, but the opponents he feared the most were Bray and Hosmer. When asked of the Democrats' chances to win the six seats, Stoll said he thought Bray, Hosmer and Kreider have the best chances to win.

Singleton said he was "confident" that Cauthorn would be re-elected.

Rep. Ted Farnen, D-Mexico, said he thought Democrats had a chance to take the Senate but that keeping the House would be easier.

"I think that's more in play," he said. "It's a bigger long shot" that the Democrats would take the Senate.

Nearly all political experts agree that this year's elections will be strongly affected by turnout based on the race for Missouri's U.S. Senate seat between Jean Carnahan and Jim Talent. Some jurisdictions are predicting turnout as high as 60 percent, extraordinary for a nonpresidential election.

Election Day is Nov. 5.