COLUMBIA - Attention voters in Kirksville, Hannibal and the rest of Missouri's largely rural 9th Congressional District: The open seat created by Kenny Hulshof's bid for governor has the attention of the Washington crowd.
Columbia resident Judy Baker's resounding primary win Tuesday has the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee targeting the district - which elected the Republican Hulshof to office six times since 1996 - as ripe for a takeover.
The group plans to infuse the Missouri race with nearly $1 million in independent spending for a high-profile television ad campaign across the 9th District, which stretches from Columbia north to the Iowa border, and also includes the western edge of the St. Louis metro area and even parts of Lake of the Ozarks.
"We're very confident in this victory," said DCCC spokesman Ryan Rudominer. "It's an open seat, and clearly there's much dissatisfaction with the Bush-Blunt economic agenda."
Baker, a state lawmaker first elected in 2004, earned 44 percent of the primary vote in a four-candidate race in which each of her three male opponents had significantly more legislative and political experience. Runner-up Steve Gaw, a former state House speaker and Public Service Commission chairman, finished 13 points behind.
Baker also performed well in many of the 25-county district's rural areas, winning in Knox, Lewis, Maries, Miller, Montgomery, Osage, Scotland and five other rural counties, as well as in the Republican-leaning Franklin, St. Charles and Warren counties in suburban St. Louis.
On the Republican side, former Missouri tourism director and state lawmaker Blaine Luetkemeyer rolled to a similarly impressive victory with 40 percent of votes cast in a five-candidate primary. His nearest opponent, state Rep. Bob Onder - a wealthy St. Charles doctor - finished with 29 percent despite outspending Luetkemeyer using much of his own money.
Luetkemeyer and Onder also sparred in a series of negative TV ads, with the first blow struck on behalf of Onder by the Washington-based Club for Growth political action committee.
That experience makes Luetkemeyer well-equipped to counter the influx of national Democratic money in the November general election, his campaign spokesman said Friday.
"They can target us all they want," spokesman Paul Sloca said. "The people in the 9th District don't appreciate these outsiders, these East Coast liberals, coming and telling them how to vote.
"We've been battle-tested before. We've proven that issues always prevail over rhetoric."
Baker could not immediately be reached for comment, but her spokesman also vowed that the campaign will emphasize economic issues and policy proposals, not name-calling.
"We've said all along that we think this is a race Democrats can win, and we're happy that the DCCC agrees," said spokesman Brian Zuzenak. "But Judy is going to run her own race."
Missouri voters on the western side of the state also will see the Democratic campaign committee's influence this fall. Among the other races targeted in its "Red to Blue" campaign is the 6th District, where former Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes, a Democrat, hopes to unseat incumbent Republican Rep. Sam Graves, of Tarkio.