Skelton challenger launches campaign in Missouri

Republicans looking to take down House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) will begin their quest in earnest next week.

Former state Rep. Vicky Hartzler, who more recently spearheaded a statewide constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, on Wednesday announced a district-wide listening tour on health care. Hartzler had quietly filed for the race late last month, but this will be her first public foray as an actual candidate.

She is expected to face some primary opposition from state Sen. Bill Stouffer, who looks ready to jump in the race.

Skelton's seat would be a huge get for Republicans, who have eyed it after it went for President Bush by 29 points in 2004 and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) by 23 points last year. But Skelton has not been seriously challenged in years, and his clout in the House has helped him to sizeable reelection margins.

Republicans also hold out some hope that a difficult challenge could nudge the 77-year-old incumbent into retirement.