WASHINGTON — Democrat John Kerry has hired a Kansas City-based operative to assemble his campaign in Missouri, one of the battleground states where the presidential election will be won.
Tony Wilson left politics in 1997 to work in government affairs for Sprint Corp. and Microsoft Corp. A veteran of political campaigns who worked for Dick Gephardt, Al Gore and the national Democratic Party, Wilson is returning to direct Kerry’s Missouri operation.
“We’re going to be in the rural parts of the state, the urban parts of the state, the suburbs of Kansas City and St. Louis — we’re going to find out where these voters are and persuade them,” Wilson said in an interview.
He was referring to the small group of undecided and independent voters who will swing the election in Missouri, which is nearly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. President Bush won the Show-Me State in 2000 by nearly 79,000 votes, defeating Gore 50 percent to 47 percent.
“This isn’t rocket science,” Wilson said of the campaign’s strategy in Missouri. “We’ve got to stay focused. We don’t want to spend a lot of time talking to Republicans trying to convince them. We’ve got to concentrate on the voters who haven’t made up their minds.”
Bush already has a Missouri team in place, with executive director David Raad and 10 others on staff, said Lloyd Smith, a senior adviser to the president’s Missouri campaign.
“You’re going to see significant resources come here in the form of money and personnel,” said Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Mo., a spokesman for the Bush campaign in Missouri. “The Bush-Cheney team will not be outworked in Missouri this year.”
Tony Wyche, a Democratic consultant in Missouri, said Kerry’s campaign benefits hugely from hiring a Missourian who already knows the players, where the votes are and where the media is.
“He’s also just somebody with a very sharp political mind,” said Wyche, a close aide to former Sen. Jean Carnahan who is advising her daughter, secretary of state candidate Robin Carnahan.
“He’s someone who is very good at dealing with people on an interpersonal level, which in a state as diverse as Missouri is a very important skill,” he said.
Wyche also said it benefits the campaign that Wilson is black.
“Having somebody who is African American running the state (campaign) is a bonus, because the ability to turn out black voters in Kansas City and St. Louis and even in the Bootheel and areas around Columbia is going to be crucial,” Wyche said.
Missouri itself is crucial, said Mike Kelley, another Democratic consultant who is a Gephardt adviser. While Missouri’s airwaves have been inundated with campaign commercials, ads aren’t running in such states as Illinois and California.
“People need to realize, we’re not kidding when we say we’re the battleground state,” Kelley said. “This battle’s going to be fought here. It’s like watching CNN analysts about the war in Iraq.”