The marquee general-election congressional race in these parts this year is undoubtedly Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill’s tough slog of a bid for a second term.
But the runner-up race looks to be a burgeoning battle between freshman Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler and Cass County Prosecutor Teresa Hensley in Missouri’s 4th District, just south and east of Kansas City.
With backing from Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, Hartzler pulled off one of the biggest upsets of 2010, when she defeated 17-term Democratic incumbent Ike Skelton.
With a heavy veteran population, the 4th District appears to be moving more conservative by the year. The non-partisan Cook Political Report rates the district as leaning Republican by 11 points and ranks it as the 62nd most Republican district in the land.
In 2008, John McCain carried the 4th District by 60-38 percent over Barack Obama. To label it solidly Republican turf — and Hartzler a solid favorite — would not be a stretch.
And yet, recent developments suggest Hensley has a shot. In redistricting, the 4th District added Democratic-leaning Columbia. Hensley also outpaced the incumbent in first-quarter fundraising, pulling in $248,648 to Hartzler’s so-so $140,230.
Emily’s List, which bills itself as the “nation’s largest resource for women in politics,” just announced that Hensley is in the fold. That’ll mean significant dollars for her and a touch of baggage, too. Emily’s List donates only to pro-choice women, which will not play well in some parts of the 4th District.
“Money-wise, it’s huge,” one GOP operative confided.
Last week, The Washington Post listed the race as one of 10 House districts that might prove to be surprisingly competitive.
Hartzler does stumble occasionally. At a town hall meeting last month, she initially expressed doubts about President Obama’s birth certificate. “You know, I have a lot of doubts about all that,” she said.
She also said something curious about China embedding microchips with detection or tracking capabilities in products sold in the United States.
“We need to have a new 007 James Bond movie with China as the bad guys,” she said, according to the Sedalia Democrat.
But Hensley will have to demonstrate that she stands with gun owners and either opposes, or has major problems with, Obama’s health plan to pass muster with many voters.
The recent fund-raising totals set off alarm bills in Hartlzer’s camp. She’s determined not to be out-raised again.
The easy comparison here is to Democrat Dennis Moore’s upset win in 1998 over Republican Vince Snowbarger in Kansas’ 3rd District. Moore also was a prosecutor, and he managed to sneak up on an unsuspecting Snowbarger.
Hartzler’s a hustler. Something tells me she won’t be caught off-guard.
To reach Steve Kraske, call 816-234-4312 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.