Eighth District opponents keep to the high road

Monday, October 30, 2006

By TJ GREANEY

Southeast Missourian

U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, is taking nothing for granted in her race for a sixth term in Congress.

"I think I have visited 26 of the 28 counties in the district over the past four weeks, and hopefully by Tuesday I'll visit the last two," she said in a phone call Friday afternoon when a rained-out campaign stop gave her a chance to "take an hour for myself."

The congresswoman, who won her last election by a 3-to-1 margin, wants to make certain she stays around the nation's capital to have a voice and a vote on issues like the 2007 Farm Bill and health-care reform.

"I just want to touch as many people and listen to as many people as possible" in the days leading up to the election, she said.

Her steady campaigning is not for show. 2006 is shaping up to be a difficult election year for Republican incumbents. Emerson hopes a strong victory will help solidify the reputation of her district as untouchable in the eyes of Democratic challengers.

This year's Democratic foe is Veronica Hambacker, a 59-year-old former president of the Missouri State Teacher's Association and former chairman of the state Public School Retirement Systems board.

Hambacker's campaign is dwarfed in size by that of Team Emerson. Hambacker had raised $49,013 compared to Emerson's more than $1 million as of Sept. 30.

But Hambacker sees her under-funded status as an asset.

"I'm just going around the district distributing information," she said. "It's a grassroots campaign. I have no money from any corporate interests. I'm being funded by the people, and when I'm elected I will be beholden to nobody but the people of this district."

Also running is Branden McCullough, a 27-year-old graduate student and teacher of history at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, Ill. McCullough of Cape Girardeau is making his first attempt at office, running as a Libertarian.

McCullough said his father encouraged him to stop complaining about the lack of Libertarian representation and go do something about it.

"There are a lot of misconceptions about our party. A lot of the public thinks we're either right-wing wackos or left-wing hippies," he said.

"I believe our party stands for individual citizens having a right to make their own decisions without interference from federal or state government because we believe government has exceeded its limits and the Constitution is being perverted as government becomes more and more bloated."

The campaign has lacked some of the vitriol present in other state and national contests.

In Emerson's most widely-aired television advertisement she tells viewers, "I don't care if you're Republican or Democrat. I represent everyone."

She believes this strategy is a winner.

"I have never had as many people say complimentary things of an ad in 10 years," she said Friday. "Frankly, I think it's less about my ad and more about the fact that there is so much negativity and mud-slinging going on."

Hambacker, though, says there are strong differences between her positions and those of Emerson. She points to the Iraq war, animal identification laws and the scandal-plagued Republican Party, which she believes is a tool of big business.

"Corporations are putting loads of money into getting these people elected, and if we don't have some kind of reform in short order our democracy is in jeopardy. We are eroding our middle class," she said.

Emerson chooses to highlight her independent streak saying she "votes her mind" on all issues. She disputed a claim by Hambacker that she voted with President George W. Bush's agenda 91 percent of the time.

"It's probably about 20 percent lower than that," she said.

As evidence she points to her determination to tackle health care in a manner that differs from many in her party. She also voted against the Republican-backed Medicare Part D drug plan, which she said effectively subsidizes pharmaceutical companies.

"In rural America health care is an issue people talk about a whole lot," she said. "Trying to get at this high number of people in our district who are uninsured, we really need to look at health care differently. It's a long-term project, but it's clear there are too many middle men between provider and the patient … The time is beginning to come for a change."

Emerson points to the plan instituted in Massachusetts which requires everyone in the state to have health care as "an interesting model."

Hambacker favors publicly financed universal health care of the model proposed by U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Michigan.

tgreaney@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245


Jo Ann Emerson

Age: 56

Education: B.A., Ohio Wesleyan, political science.

Family: Husband, Ron Gladney; two daughters, Victoria and Katharine; five stepdaughters, Elizabeth Emerson Leger, Abigail Emerson Gilhooley, Alison Gladney, Jessica Gladney and Stephanie Gladney; one stepson, Sam Gladney; and three grandchildren.

Political experience: Five terms, U.S. House of Representatives

Veronica Hambacker

Age: 59

Education: B.S., University of Missouri; M.A. in English Southeast Missouri State University.

Family: Husband, John; a son, Jonathan; stepson, Mark; stepdaughter, Julie.

Political experience: President of State Teacher's Association and chairwoman of the state Public School Retirement Systems

Profession: Retired teacher

Branden McCullough

Age: 27

Education: B.A., Southeast Missouri State University, M.A. in history Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

Family: wife, Beth.

Profession: Teacher and graduate student

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