Correction to This Article
A map with the continuation of the article about voter attitudes in heartland states incorrectly labeled Lexington as the capital of Kentucky. The capital is Frankfort.

America's heartland sees little need for a political insurrection

Contenders for a Senate seat in Missouri: U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt (R) and Robin Carnahan (D).
Contenders for a Senate seat in Missouri: U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt (R) and Robin Carnahan (D). (Brendan Smialowski - Getty Images)
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By Shailagh Murray  
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 4, 2010

QUEEN CITY, MO. -- It would seem like the wrong kind of year for Roy Blunt to go looking for a promotion.

The conservative Republican congressman is the picture of the Washington insider. Blunt rose through the House GOP ranks as the party's emissary to K Street lobbyists. His wife is a prominent lobbyist. He raises more money from lobbyists than just about any of his House colleagues and is unapologetic about wringing money from the federal budget to benefit his home state.

In other words, he is just the type of candidate voters are supposed to be shunning this year in favor of angry outsiders who say they will overturn the Blunt way of doing things.

Yet so far, this baggage doesn't appear to be hurting him. Blunt is running far ahead of his Republican primary challengers in the race to replace retiring Sen. Christopher S. "Kit" Bond (R). And polls show he is even with or slightly ahead of the Democratic candidate, Robin Carnahan. A seat that a year ago seemed to be one of the Democrats' best pickup chances is now viewed by both parties as up for grabs.

It could be that Carnahan, who is from a prominent political family, is viewed by Missouri voters as an establishment candidate herself. Or that Democrats are so unpopular at the moment in this all-important swing state that any Republican on the ballot would be running strong.

But it may be something else -- less apparent but more significant: that contrary to the simplistic "get rid of them all" narrative that has come to define news coverage of the 2010 elections, the voters here, and in nearby states, are more willing to trust veterans of the political system to sort out the nation's problems.

States like Missouri and its industrial heartland neighbors are different from the South and the West, where the major parties have lost a spate of early primaries this year to upstarts with more radical, anti-Washington views. Yes, voters here are frustrated and angry. They are skeptical that either party has the right answers to ease deeply rooted economic struggles that began with the decline of U.S. manufacturing in the late 1970s.

But shrill, style-over-substance campaigning alone doesn't often go over as well in this part of the country, and "tea party" candidates have not found as much success. Blunt vs. Carnahan is an old-fashioned matchup between two polished politicians who both emphasize their competence and their experience.

"Missouri is an establishment kind of place," said Jeff Roe, a Kansas City-based GOP political consultant. "Blunt is everything voters there want . . . even if they don't like everything he's done."

A pocket of power

Missouri lies in the middle of the long Interstate 70 corridor that spools westward from Baltimore through the Midwest to Kansas City and beyond. Call these states the "heartland of America," or the "Rust Belt" or the "smokestack states." If you are from too-cool New York or L.A., look down your nose at it as "flyover country."

But know this: Political strategists and aspiring presidential candidates see it as anything but. Five states along this route -- Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- were instrumental to Democrats' sweep of Congress in 2006 and President Obama's election in 2008; and the results of the elections there will have great influence over who holds power in Washington next year and ultimately who sits in the Oval Office after 2012. The Washington Post will explore the political dynamics of this crucial swath in an occasional series of newspaper articles and Web features over the course of the 2010 election season.

Each of the states features an open Senate race this year, and Republicans have fielded experienced politicians in each contest.

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