In 1972, a young high school history teacher named Roy Blunt was elected county clerk of Greene County, Mo. With his boyish looks and earnest smile, he hardly looked older than most of his students. Thirty-eight years later, that same Blunt, still with those same boyish looks and earnest smile — albeit with a few more wrinkles — stood and basked in the applause of his supporters as the voters of Missouri sent him to the U.S. Senate.
Blunt defeated Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan on Tuesday night by a sizable margin in an election year that saw significant gains for Republicans nationwide.
"People want to hold onto the unique strength of America," Blunt said, declaring his victory a win for Missourians tired of the policies of President Barack Obama and national Democrats.
"This is the time when we decide whether we are going to renew the lease on freedom," the senator-elect continued.
Blunt returned to a line he'd used repeatedly during the campaign, declaring that Missourians had made a choice between living in a country where "the people are bigger than the government or where the government is bigger than the people."
He gave his brief speech shortly after 10 p.m. in a packed conference room at the University Plaza Convention Center in Springfield. The room was filled with supporters, and chairs were claimed quickly, leaving many supporters forced to stand.
Most didn't seem to mind, though, celebrating enthusiastically after the results came in.
Rennie Auiler of Springfield is the lone Republican in a family of Democrats.
"I'm going to be the happiest one in my family tomorrow," Auiler said.
The tone was not nearly as celebratory on the other side of Missouri. In St. Louis, Carnahan conceded the Senate race just minutes before Blunt delivered his message of victory.
"We didn't win this election tonight," she said.
Even in her defeat, though, Carnahan struck a defiant tone reminiscent of that assumed during her campaign.
"Politics as usual is not going to cut it," Carnahan said. "Our people deserve better."
She said she talked with Blunt and encouraged him to put the good of Missourians ahead of special interests. "To fix this problem we have to work together," she added. "Never, ever let the fire go out."
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., spoke of Carnahan's political toughness when she introduced the secretary of state at the watch party.
"She's one tough cookie," McCaskill said. "She's someone who embraces the servant part of public servant."
The loss came as a surprise to Scott Saberton, who drove from Oakville to attend the event.
"I haven't had a thought of her losing," he said, adding that she would still be a force for good in the state even after the defeat.
Leading up to election night, the campaign was marked by negative ads on the airwaves and acrimony on the campaign trail.
Carnahan, trailing in the polls for much of the race, aggressively criticized Blunt's record in Congress and questioned his ethics. She accused Blunt of being "one of the most corrupt members of Congress," saying he was too close to lobbyists. She asserted that his voting record favored the interests of big businesses over the public good and that he was a creature of Washington.
But such political attacks failed to save the secretary of state from being swept up into a national, anti-Democratic wave.
Blunt, aware of the liabilities posed by his 16-year tenure in Washington in an anti-incumbent year, worked to portray Carnahan as a potential tool and ideological ally of an unpopular president.
In defeating Carnahan, Blunt has felled a scion of Missouri's pre-eminent modern political dynasty. The secretary of state's brother, father and mother have all held elected office.
Blunt was first elected to the county clerkship of Greene County in 1972 and held that position until 1984, when he was elected secretary of state. After losing the 1992 Republican primary for governor, he took a sabbatical from politics, serving as president of Southwest Baptist University until winning election to Congress in 1996.
When U.S. Sen. Kit Bond announced in January of last year that he would not seek re-election, Blunt threw his hat into the ring.
Blunt's victory was just one bright spot in a starry night for the GOP. Alluding to the good night Republicans were having nationwide, David Cole, chairman of the Missouri Republican Party, cast Blunt's victory as a rebuke with national implications, saying voters had come out "to send Barack Obama a message that enough is enough."