Family troubles haunt Missouri Senate race

For Roy Blunt (R) and Robin Carnahan (D), their well-known political families might prove more of a liability than an asset in the Missouri Senate race.

Both candidates have famous last names in the Show Me state — monikers that have appeared on local and statewide ballots for decades.

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But instead of being able to tout the family brand, the candidates are being attacked over it. That could be a damaging charge in an election year proving tough for incumbents and candidates with Washington ties.

When President Obama came to Missouri to raise money for Carnahan earlier this month, Blunt’s campaign characterized the Missouri secretary of state as “a third-generation Washington-insider politician.”

“Robin Carnahan's grandfather was a congressman in Washington, her mother was a U.S. Senator in Washington and her brother, Congressman Russ Carnahan, is a congressman in Washington,” Blunt’s campaign noted.

Carnahan’s mother, Jean, briefly served as Missouri senator in place of her husband, former Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan (D), who won election to the Senate in 2000 just weeks after dying in a plane crash. Her brother Russ (D) was elected to Congress in 2004.

Carnahan has been on the attack against Blunt, too. And the Missouri Democratic Party joined in, blasting Blunt, a seven-term congressman, as a Washington insider with close ties to lobbyists. The party has repeatedly pointed to the lobbying career of Blunt’s son Andy, who serves as his father’s campaign manager.

"Congressman Blunt has a campaign of lobbyists, by lobbyists and for lobbyists,” party spokesman Ryan Hobart told The Hill in a statement. “Having a lobbyist serve as his campaign manager is another example of how, in Congressman Blunt's world, the lines drawn between his office, his campaign and lobbyists are virtually non-existent."

And Democratic-aligned blogs such as Fired Up! Missouri touted a report issued Tuesday by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) that listed Blunt as one of 11 “crooked candidates.” Carnahan’s campaign e-mailed reporters with the news.

CREW’s report alleges, among other things, that Blunt used his position in Congress to funnel money to his son Matt’s 2000 run for Missouri secretary of state and to insert a provision that would help one of Andy Blunt’s lobbying clients into an Iraq war funding bill. Matt Blunt went on to serve as governor of Missouri from 2005-2009.

Blunt spokesman Richard Chrismer responded that CREW has come under fire for being partial to Democrats and attacked the group’s credibility.

“Robin Carnahan's liberal allies are back again with more of the same untrue attacks and phony reports because they know Missourians don't want another rubber stamp for Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Barack Obama,” Chrismer told The Hill in a statement.

Chrismer accused Carnahan of having lobbying ties in her own family, “including two of her brothers who were state lobbyists when her father was governor.” 

But the Missouri Ethics Commission's online lobbying database, which covers lobbyists who were registered from 2000 onward, shows that one of the brothers, Tom Carnahan, was registered as a state lobbyist from 2001-2006, not while Mel Carnahan was in office as governor.

Meanwhile, the Missouri State Archives said it could not find a lobbyist listing for Tom Carnahan before that time.

Carnahan spokesman Linden Zakula told The Hill that none of Blunt’s attacks “will change that Congressman Blunt’s been in Washington for 14 years, and he has record of wasteful spending, corruption and sticking it to the middle class.”

That’s not to say that Blunt and Carnahan haven’t benefited from the recognition that comes with the family name. Jean Carnahan reportedly blasted Blunt at a county Democratic committee dinner in March while saying her daughter has the “fighting spirit” needed to change Washington. Matt Blunt has blasted campaign news to his more than 2,000 followers on Twitter.

Campaign spokesmen said they didn’t know if other family members would go on the stump.

But with recent polling showing a close November match-up, insiders from both parties say the candidates will have a tough time winning pivotal independent and swing voters by selling the family name.

“Both Carnahan and Blunt’s names are so well-known, and with the anti-incumbent attitude, I don't know that involving all your family members serves you well,” said Chris Howard, a Missouri GOP committeeman who supports Blunt.

Missouri Democratic consultant Ed Rhode said Blunt has more to worry about because he is the one with a Washington record, not Carnahan. He criticized Blunt’s attempts to tie Carnahan to family members who have served in Congress.

“It’s interesting because she’s getting tied to a record that’s not hers, and Roy Blunt is running away from a record that is his,” Rhode said.

And he said that voters might not like cuts Matt Blunt made to Missouri’s Medicaid program and  they might remember his troubled final months in the governor’s office. He chose not to run for reelection in 2008, saying he had achieved what he could as governor, including slashing deficits and boosting funding for education. But his decision came amid sinking poll numbers and accusations that he improperly dismissed an aide and destroyed e-mail public records.

The tangle over family ties has even spilled over into the race for the Republican nomination.

Blunt’s best-known GOP challenger, Missouri state Sen. Chuck Purgason, has run on an outsider platform and criticized Blunt for Andy Blunt’s lobbying career.

"No members of my family will be a lobbyist," Purgason told the St. Louis Beacon recently in a veiled jab at Blunt.

Blunt is still the favorite to win the nomination, even though Purgason has won most of the state’s Tea Party support. Most Missouri political insiders say that if Blunt prevails, he will need and will likely get most of Purgason’s supporters, though it’s unclear how many would stay at home in November.

-- This story was updated on 10:07 a.m. on July 28.