JEFFERSON CITY— Only the invited few will get to see Vice President Joe Biden when he comes to Missouri to raise an estimated $100,000 for the U.S. Senate campaign of Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan.
Carnahan's campaign said about 170 people are expected to attend Biden's fundraiser Thursday evening in Springfield, with tickets starting at $500 per couple. Biden is not planning any public appearances, and the vice president's office is not allowing cameras inside the fundraiser.
Biden's visit comes with polls showing Carnahan trailing Republican U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt in the race to replace retiring Sen. Kit Bond. But Democrats have been mounting a vigorous effort in Missouri, which they consider one of their best shots to pick up a Republican-held seat and offset the expected loss of Democratic Senate seats elsewhere.
"The vice president understands what's at stake, and I'm glad he's here to help," Carnahan said.
In July, Carnahan received help from President Barack Obama at a Kansas City fundraiser that drew hundreds of people and was open to the media.
Blunt has used video from that event in campaign ads against Carnahan linking her to Obama's policies and trying to capitalize on the president's unpopularity in Missouri. Blunt, who is from Springfield, said he welcomed Biden's visit as a benefit to his own campaign.
"Robin Carnahan agrees with President Obama on the issues and I don't, and that should be something voters are thinking about between now and Election Day," Blunt said.
Blunt planned to participate in a Republican rally scheduled for about the same time as Carnahan's fundraiser and just a few miles away.
Springfield is the largest city in southwest Missouri, which historically has supported Republicans. That might explain why the event is low-key, said George Connor, head of the political science department at Missouri State University in Springfield.
"Any public appearance with Biden and Robin here in Springfield is just pouring kerosene on an inflammable situation with respect to the Republican base here," said Connor. But "there are enough wealthy Democratic donors in southwest Missouri that they can come together for a private event."
Obama, who lost the state overall with 49 percent of the vote in 2008, got 41 percent in Springfield's home of Greene County.
A poll released Wednesday by CNN/Time/Opinion Research Corp. showed Blunt leading Carnahan 53 percent to 40 percent among likely voters, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The poll also showed that 61 percent of likely Missouri voters disapprove of the way Obama is handling his job as president.
But Biden's visit has encouraged some local Democrats.
"We see that as a sign that things are just as close as they always have been (in past years) and are just needing the extra push to get over the top," said Matthew Patterson, executive director of the Greene County Democratic Central Committee, who planned to attend the fundraiser.
Patterson said it's key for Carnahan to get more than 40 percent of the vote in Greene County while carrying the traditional Democratic strongholds of St. Louis and Kansas City.
In Missouri's last U.S. Senate race, Democrat Claire McCaskill carried nearly 43 percent of the vote in Greene County while defeating Republican Sen. Jim Talent. Four years earlier, Carnahan's mother — Sen. Jean Carnahan — got a little less than 40 percent of Greene County's votes while losing to Talent in a special election.