WASHINGTON -- Missouri Republican Sen. Jim Talent, facing a strong Democratic challenger, officially kicks off his re-election campaign this weekend with an eight-city tour that highlights his accomplishments in Congress.
Talent, who won a special election in 2002, has so far been reluctant to engage his likely Democratic opponent -- state auditor Claire McCaskill -- though she has been actively campaigning for months.
That is expected to change Friday, as Talent defends his record over the past four years and lays out an agenda for a second term in the Senate.
"Talent has always said that elections are about choices, so you should expect him to discuss some of the differences between him and his opponent," Talent campaign spokesman Rich Chrismer said.
McCaskill's campaign also plans on becoming more active next month. The Democrat plans to open eight new regional offices around the state in June, with more to follow. Currently, McCaskill has two offices -- her campaign headquarters in St. Louis and another office in Kansas City.
Early polls have shown Talent and McCaskill running even, and the candidates already have raised more than $10 million combined ahead of the November election. The race is one of a handful around the country that Democrats have targeted with the goal of winning back a majority in the Senate.
Joined by his wife, Brenda, and his three children, Talent will start off Friday morning in the conservative stronghold of Springfield before traveling to Joplin, Kansas City and Columbia. On Saturday, he'll make his way to St. Louis, Cape Girardeau, St. Joseph and Hannibal.
Chrismer said Talent would lay our some new initiatives this weekend, but he declined to go into specifics.
McCaskill's campaign signaled it was ready to respond to any barbs Talent sends their way.
"In light of the overspending, corruption and misguided priorities that favor the special interests over regular people, it's clear that Jim Talent just doesn't understand Missouri anymore," McCaskill spokeswoman Adrianne Marsh said.
Launching his re-election campaign in Springfield sends voters a signal that Talent is working to shore up his conservative base, said George Connor, associate professor of political science at Missouri State University.
"This is bread-and-butter conservative country," Conner said. "This is where he has to win."
While McCaskill has crisscrossed the state in an RV, visiting dozens of small cities to woo rural voters, Talent is beginning is focusing on both urban and rural areas of Missouri. As a senator, Chrismer said, Talent has visited all 114 counties in Missouri.
Both candidates are leaning on their families for support. McCaskill has traveled extensively with her mother, talking about the impact of Medicare on the elderly, and recently has taken her two sisters around the state.
Talent's 15-year-old son and his daughters, 13 and 10, always have been active in his campaigns, but they have wanted to do more as they have grown, Chrismer said.
On the Net:
Claire McCaskill's election Web site: http://www.claireonline.com
Sen. Jim Talent's election Web site: http://www.talentforsenate.com