JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri's first-of-its-kind referendum on the new federal health care law is highlighting a partisan divide in its primaries for an open U.S. Senate seat.
Republican senatorial front-runner U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt and rival tea party favorite state Sen. Chuck Purgason both have been actively touting "Proposition C" on Tuesday's ballot. The measure attempts to defy a new federal requirement that most people have health insurance.
Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, the leading Democratic Senate candidate, plans to vote against the ballot measure.
Missouri's health care vote is seen as the first referendum, albeit a largely symbolic one, on the health care overhaul championed by President Barack Obama. If approved, it's unclear if the measure would hold up, as federal law generally supersedes state law.
The U.S. Senate primaries and health care proposition have commanded the most national attention on Missouri's ballot. In other top primary contests Tuesday, Republicans will be picking the person most likely to succeed Blunt in a southwest Missouri congressional district. Republican voters also will be nominating challengers to longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton in west-central Missouri and to Democratic State Auditor Susan Montee.
On a final day of campaigning before the primary election, Blunt rode his big blue campaign RV from southwest to northeast Missouri, collecting endorsements from agricultural groups.
His campaign website, meanwhile, highlighted an online petition in support of Missouri's health care ballot measure, which doubled as a means of collecting e-mail addresses for his Senate campaign. His website declared: "Help Kick ObamaCare Out of Missouri."
"Missouri would be the first state to really send a ballot box message that this is not what we want to do as a country," Blunt said when asked about the federal health care law during a campaign stop in Jefferson City.
Similar laws already have been enacted — without statewide votes — in Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana and Virginia. And similar measures are to appear as state constitutional amendments on the November ballot in Arizona and Oklahoma.
Purgason, who trailed Blunt in a recent poll, also sought to connect his campaign with the movement for the Missouri ballot measure. His website offered ways for people to change their Facebook or Twitter profile images to display a Purgason campaign button overlaid with a smaller circle showing support for Proposition C.
"We need to pass this overwhelmingly so other states get on board and begin the process of saying 'no' to the federal government," Purgason said in a telephone interview.
Unlike her potential Republican opponents, Carnahan has not made the federal health care law much of an issue in her senatorial campaign, although she has previously expressed support for it. Her campaign said she opposed the Missouri ballot measure, noting it may have little "practical implication" because federal laws normally trump those in states.
"As a breast cancer survivor, she takes the issue of health care very personally and thinks it makes a lot more sense to fix the things that still need fixing (in the federal law), instead of repealing the entire bill, or opting out, and going back to insurance companies making out like bandits and denying coverage for people with pre-existing conditions," said Carnahan spokesman Linden Zakula.