Democrats hope rally kicks off turnaround

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The organizers of a fund-raiser in Dexter, Mo., have sold more than 400 tickets.

Democrats in Southeast Missouri hope their first real rally in more than 20 years will mark the beginning of a turnaround for a political party that has been abused at the ballot boxes by their Republican rivals for decades.

"The fact is, I think the Democrats got lazy and took things for granted. That's what happens when you don't make the effort," said Annis Fortner, an organizer of Saturday evening's rally in Dexter, Mo., and vice chairwoman of Stoddard County's Democratic committee.

Democratic organizers say they are making an effort now: More than 400 tickets have been sold for the fund-raising rally, the first of its kind since 1983. The event will be at the Elks Lodge in Dexter, and organizers say no tickets remain. Proceeds will be given to the Democratic candidates.

Some of the speakers lined up include gubernatorial candidate Jay Nixon, U.S. Senate candidate Claire McCaskill, state treasurer candidate Mark Powell, and 8th Congressional District candidate Veronica Hambacker. Former governor Roger Wilson will be master of ceremonies.

Local Democrats say the political climate makes now the time to strike. With the midterm elections in the fall, Democratic leaders here point out President Bush's approval rating reached an all-time low last month, reflecting a country that is increasingly unhappy with the war in Iraq.

In Missouri, Democrats say, many voters remain unhappy with several of Gov. Matt Blunt's policies, including what they call dramatic cuts in eligibility for Medicaid, the government program that pays for health care for the poor.

"To our way of thinking, nothing has gone right since George Bush became president, in any facet: the war, health care, the environment, the response to Katrina," said Shirla Howard, a member of the Democratic committee in Dexter and wife of former state senator Jerry Howard. "There's also a lot of dissatisfaction with the way the state is being run. We can't let this opportunity pass by."

Republicans have taken note of the rally, but party spokesman Paul Sloca said Democrats haven't lost ground in the state because of a lack of organization.

"This is about Missouri values, what Missourians believe, and Democrats don't represent Missouri values," Sloca said. "That's why they will make no progress in rural Missouri and especially in Southeast Missouri."

Sloca said Democrats support "abortion on demand" and a "cut-and-run" philosophy in Iraq.

"It's going to be very clear at this Democratic rally that their support in the Bootheel is not very impressive," he said. "That's a result of the Democratic policies."

Wilson said Republicans have made a lot of political hay with emotional issues like gun control, abortion and gay marriage.

"But those issues haven't created one job," Wilson said. "Why aren't they talking about $3 a gallon gas and what they're going to do about it? ... I think the Republicans have given away a lot of their good will. They're in a tailspin right now."

Tailspin or not, Wilson said Democrats are interested more in what they would do if they were in positions of power, including balancing the budget, providing good public safety and good jobs and bolstering public education.

Wilson said this is the right time for Democrats to make in-roads in Southeast Missouri and across the state.

"I think we've got the Republican Party laying the concrete for us. I think they're building the in-roads for us," he said.

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