Saturday, Oct. 16, 2010

Missouri's 4th Congressional District: Ike Skelton vs. Vicky Hartzler

Ike Skelton may be one of the last Truman Democrats around. Not only does he represent Harry Truman's old district, but his father and Truman were great friends. Like Truman, Skelton, who serves as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, is relatively conservative on issues of national defense and gun rights but more liberal on taxes and economic policy.

Skelton, 78, is widely respected on both sides of the aisle for his military acumen: retiring Missouri Senator Kit Bond has publicly praised Skelton for his advocacy of the Show Me State's military installations. Over his 16 terms, Skelton hasn't had many tough re-elections; Missouri redistricting threw him against another incumbent in 1982, but even then he won with 55% of the vote. But this time could be different. His historically conservative district leans Republican — it's just one of 11 seats that went for John McCain in 2008 with more than 60% of the vote — and his opponent is ideally positioned to capture a lot of the Tea Party enthusiasm driving this cycle. Skelton's vulnerability is a sign of just how bad things are for Democrats this year: it's rare for a powerful committee chairman, especially one of the old Democratic House bulls, to face a tough re-election.

His opponent is former state representative Vicky Hartzler, 50, who served in the state legislature for six years before leaving in 2000 to have a baby. In 2004, she worked as Missouri's spokeswoman for the Coalition to Protect Marriage, which that year helped pass, with 71% of the vote, a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. She also wrote a book, Running God's Way: Step by Step to a Successful Political Campaign. She's got Sarah Palin's endorsement, and most of the district's Tea Party groups are behind her.

On paper, Skelton and Hartzler seem to have more commonalities than significant differences. Skelton has the endorsement of the National Rifle Association, while Hartzler is supported by Gun Owners of America; the Farm Bureau gave Skelton its "Friends of the Farm Bureau" award while endorsing Hartzler; and National Right to Life has endorsed both candidates.

But Hartzler has been pounding Skelton on his votes for the stimulus bill and climate-change legislation. Of all the House members who voted for both of those bills, Skelton hails from the reddest district. He does, however, enter the final month of campaigning with more than twice as much cash on hand — $918,537 to Hartzler's $365,412. And Skelton certainly hasn't been resting on his laurels; he got his campaign up and running while Hartzler was still staving off challengers in the primary, and he's kept up an energetic pace at home. In any event, this may be a fight for a disappearing seat: many expected this would be Skelton's last re-election and that he'd retire at age 80, when Missouri is likely to lose a seat in decennary redistricting due to the state's reduced population.