JEFFERSON CITY — Significantly more of Missouri's political candidates are calling themselves Republicans this year.
What isn't clear is whether the high number of Republican candidates is a result of term limits or a general frustration with the path of government.
When Missouri's candidacy filing period ended last week, Republicans comprised 303 of the 582 people running for U.S. Senate or House, the state legislature, state auditor or circuit judgeships. Democrats had 224 candidates, and the rest were aligned with either the Libertarian or Constitution parties.
Half of the Republican advantage in candidates is attributable to state House races, where there were 211 Republicans and 171 Democrats. Twenty-eight third party candidates also filed for the House for the Aug. 3 primary elections. The winners from each party will face off in the November general elections.
The 163-member Missouri House has 65 races in which no incumbent is running — 53 because of term limits and 12 because the incumbents chose not to seek re-election.
Larger numbers of candidates typically flock to races without an incumbent. Of this year's 65 open House races, nearly two-thirds are for seats most recently held by Republicans. That could be part of the explanation for why there are more Republican than Democratic candidates.
But House Republican leaders say their high number of candidates reflects more than merely political opportunity for open seats.
House Majority Leader Steven Tilley, who also is chairman of the Missouri House Republican Campaign Committee, called it a backlash from the last election, when Democrats won the White House and gained seats in Congress.
"In 2008 they voted for change, they got change, and they don't like what they got, and in the House we look forward to a great year in 2010," said Tilley, of Perryville. "Not only do we have more candidates, but we've got better candidates and we've got a better organization."
Democrats counter that the high number of Republican's who filed shows a lack of trust within the Republican Party itself. Missouri House Democratic Campaign Chairman Mike Talboy said the number of Republican challengers and third party candidates speaks to distrust in the establishment. Republicans currently hold majorities in both the Missouri House and Senate.
"You have a group of Republicans that think that their values are not being represented by those that are in office right now," Talboy said. "The mood is just very anti-incumbent, I don't think that people really trust folks that are running government at any level."
Often there is a strong likelihood a sitting politician will be re-elected.
But this year, incumbents may not be as safe as they once were. On both sides of the aisle, politicians face potential primary and general election fights.
Twenty-nine Democratic incumbents face challenges from a total of 30 Republicans and six fellow Democrats. Twenty-seven Republican incumbents also face challenges, from 15 Republicans and 19 Democrats.
Contested races also are including more third-party candidates — 10 percent of non-incumbent candidates are from outside the two major parties. All told, 28 candidates filed as members of a third party, two-thirds of whom filed as Constitution Party members.
During the 2006 House race, there were 13 Libertarian candidates who filed and none from the Constitution Party.
University of Missouri-St. Louis political science professor David Kimball said the jump in third-party candidates is tied to anger about the economy.
"If things are bad then the logic kind of is that it's the two parties fault," Kimball said.