COLUMBIA, Mo. – Dozens of aspiring Missouri Republican candidates are jumping at the chance to run in November for two rarely open U.S. congressional seats.
U.S. Reps. Vicky Hartzler and Billy Long are running for the Senate in Tuesday's GOP primary, leaving Hartzler's central 4th Congressional District and Long's southwestern 7th Congressional District seats open.
The Republican primary for Hartzler's seat includes state Sen. Rick Brattin, cattle rancher Kalena Bruce, former Kansas City-area news anchor Mark Alford, former Boone County Clerk Taylor Burks and former St. Louis Blues player Jim Campbell. Burks and Campbell were the top two fundraisers as of mid-July, although Campbell is primarily self-funded and has not been spending money.
Republicans seeking Long's seat include state Sens. Eric Burlison and Mike Moon and former state Sen. Jay Wasson, along with pastor Alex Bryant and Dr. Sam Alexander. Wasson is leading in fundraising.
All but two sitting Missouri representatives won their seats when the positions became open, which is rare in Missouri.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver has served the Kansas City area since 2005, and GOP Rep. Sam Graves has represented northern Missouri since 2001. Both Cleaver and Graves won after incumbents opted not to run for reelection.
One reason is that there are no federal term limits. Incumbents also typically have name recognition, a financial advantage and the ability to claim credit for local programs and government funding, Central Missouri University political scientist Robynn Kuhlmann said.
“This is why we tend to see a surge of candidates during open seat elections," she said. “Generally speaking, open seat elections are the chance to enter into the arena with a much more even playing field.”
An overloaded GOP pipeline of aspiring candidates is compounding competitiveness in Missouri's Republican primaries, longtime state Republican political consultant John Hancock said.
Republicans hold a nearly two-thirds majority in the state House and Senate, a traditional launching pad for political careers. They're barred from running for reelection after eight years of service, leaving candidates grasping for other political opportunities.
“The term limit is either imminent or it's coming, and opportunities are few and far between for political advancement,” Hancock said.
He expects open congressional and statewide seats to continue luring large fields of Republican hopefuls.
In the Republican-controlled 4th and 7th Districts, Democrats face steep odds, Kuhlmann said.
“Because of this, the candidates that emerge successfully out of these two Republican primaries may very well be in for a coronation despite a looming general election,” she said.
The dynamic encourages candidates to stake out increasingly conservative positions to win the primary.
“I am the most conservative lawmaker in Jeff City,” Burlison said during a July 20 debate.
Top issues among the Republican candidates include abortion, immigration, American energy independence and gas prices, inflation, and “the usual midterm fight against the President’s party and its apparatus,” Kuhlmann said.
“These races are all too close to call,” Hancock said. “It could be a very late night Tuesday.”
Associated Press writer David A. Lieb contributed to this report from Jefferson City.