ST. LOUIS -- Claire McCaskill wants everyone to know that she's much older than Matt Blunt, her rival for the Missouri governor's office. The Democrat tells voters she ran a small business, reared a family and served six years as a prosecutor before she reached the legislature and statewide office.
Oh, and did she mention that she's much older than Blunt?
"First, I want to take an opportunity to congratulate Matt and Melanie on expecting their first child," McCaskill, 51, said during a televised debate last week, shortly after mentioning her 17-year-old son. "It's something we have in common. I was expecting my first child when I was 33 years old."
The audience laughed at the transparent play.
Competing in a state where President Bush is running strongly, and one in which seven in 10 voters supported an anti-gay marriage amendment that she opposed, McCaskill considers it crucial to make Blunt appear callow.
Blunt, a youthful Naval Academy graduate and secretary of state, may be less experienced, but he has smarts and advantages that have helped keep the race a tossup. His father, Roy Blunt, is the well-known majority whip in the U.S. House, and his grandfather was a state representative.
Mimicking Bush's positions, Blunt has crafted a campaign to appeal to Missouri's most motivated conservatives. He talks about trial lawyers, taxes and "renegade judges." Asked to name three people to whom he looks for advice, he named his wife, his mother and God.
"We share the same values," Bush said here Oct. 9 in helping Blunt raise $750,000. "We stand for a culture of life, in which every person matters and every being counts. We stand for marriage and family, which are the foundations of our society. We believe in the power of faith, and we stand with the armies of compassion."
McCaskill, by contrast, has kept her distance from the candidate at the top of the Democratic ticket, Sen. John F. Kerry. The Kerry campaign, trailing in the polls, has all but surrendered Missouri. But Democrats who feared that McCaskill, the state auditor, would be swamped by a Bush landslide in the state have been buoyed by Kerry's performance.
"Everybody's predicting that Missouri will go to President Bush, but I'm still giving even money to McCaskill," said George Connor, political science professor at Southwest Missouri State University. "Bush will win in Missouri, but if the trend isn't big enough, the coattails aren't long enough."
McCaskill won a bitter and expensive primary against Gov. Bob Holden, the first time in a decade that an incumbent governor anywhere in the country had lost a primary. She polled surprisingly well in rural areas where Republicans are predominant, although her strongest support on Nov. 2 is expected to come from St. Louis and her home turf of Kansas City.
In poll matchups with Blunt, she has an overwhelming advantage among African Americans, while he leads among the larger white population. His strength is greatest in St. Charles County and Springfield, where he taps worries about taxes and regulation and draws on endorsements from such groups as the Missouri Chamber of Commerce.
McCaskill is part of a record-setting year for women on the Missouri ballot. Four of the six women running statewide are Democrats, including Sandra Farmer, who is trailing in her bid to deny Christopher S. Bond a fourth Senate term. Another is Robin Carnahan, daughter of Mel Carnahan, who died in a plane crash in October 2000 and posthumously defeated John D. Ashcroft for the Senate.
On the stump, McCaskill talks about education and health care, as well as government discipline, pointing to her record of aggressive state audits of education funds and child welfare programs. She cites her experience as Jackson County prosecutor, boasting that she put more people in the penitentiary than any other.