Blunt beating Nixon in public events, 350-11

Monday, October 15, 2007

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- If politics were sports, this score might be a record:~ Blunt is ramping up his official public appearances while Nixon appears to be toning his down.


That's the number of public events that Gov. Matt Blunt has participated in this year compared to Attorney General Jay Nixon.

The astounding gap highlights the strategic gulf that has emerged as the Republican governor and Democratic attorney general prepare to square off in the 2008 gubernatorial election.

Blunt is ramping up his official public appearances while Nixon appears to be toning his down.

"It defies an explanation of pure chance," observes political science professor Dave Robertson, of the University of Missouri-St. Louis. The best explanation: The governor's race "is a significant influence" in the official actions of Nixon and Blunt, Robertson said.

The Associated Press collected copies of every notice issued this year by Blunt and Nixon of news conferences, speeches and other public events. The AP also received figures from years past, as supplied by their offices.

In 2005, Blunt's first year as governor, he participated in 241 public events. The next year, that grew to 273. Through Friday, Blunt had participated in about 350 events in 2007.

The qualifier "about" is necessary because that figure could range from 346 to 357, depending on whether such things as Blunt's day at the State Fair counts as one event or eight. (The governor's office issued one advisory, but it included eight different times and locations at which Blunt delivered speeches, made announcements or toured agricultural facilities.)

Multiple events

Blunt is averaging more than a news event a day. But the reality is Blunt does not hold a daily news conference. He rarely holds public events on Sundays, for example. And he frequently holds multiple public events on the same day.

By contrast, Nixon's total of 11 public events amounts to barely one a month. And whereas Blunt has held news events in dozens of small towns, from Anderson to Versailles, Nixon's news conferences have occurred only in bigger cities.

Last year, Nixon held 21 news conferences. In 2005, he held 30.

Although his public appearances have declined, Nixon spokesman John Fougere said they remain "pretty comparable" from year to year. He notes Nixon held just 19 public events in 2004.

"We want our news conferences to be on issues that are extremely important" and best conveyed through public events rather than news releases, Fougere said. "The attorney general spends his time chasing bad guys and not chasing TV cameras."

Blunt believes in being open and accessible to Missouri's residents and media, said spokeswoman Jessica Robinson. While the governor's office sets up many of his public appearances, it also receives hundreds of invitations every month to participate in community events, she said.

"Public officials who are not accessible are likely not answering the tough questions or stating their positions on important issues," Robinson said.

She denied any connection between Blunt's rising public appearances and the nearing elections. Rather, "we have become increasingly more efficient in scheduling," Robinson said.


That explanation rings hollow to political scientist George Connor, of Missouri State University.

"He's just exploiting those prerogatives that he's entitled to" as governor -- namely, the ability to command an audience whenever desired, Connor said. "It's hard to see this level of activity as anything other than campaigning. How can you justify the difference" between 350 and 11 events?

Bolstering the evidence that Blunt is essentially campaigning through official events is the fact that half his public appearances have occurred outside the capital or Missouri's three largest metro areas of St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield, Connor said. Those rural areas tend to lean Republican, and thus are important to shore up for a Republican governor facing a tough re-election.

While Connor was more struck by the magnitude of Blunt's events, Robertson was more intrigued by Nixon's nearly nonexistent public appearances.

Robertson notes that a governor naturally will have more public events than an attorney general. But attorneys general also have the ability to command the spotlight, as evidenced by former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's battles against Wall Street or his successor Andrew Cuomo's investigation into the student loan industry.

"I can understand the governor's effort to try to explain himself, but it's a little hard for me to understand why Jay Nixon's public appearances have been so subdued," Robertson said.

But there is a political theory for that, too.

Nixon "has to be aware that almost anything he does will be subject to criticism from Blunt's campaign," Robertson said. Perhaps Nixon is laying low "to try to make it appear he's not being political, and to not serve as a lighting rod for negative attacks from his political opponent."

So Nixon benefits from fewer official public appearances and Blunt benefits from more.

At some point next year, that gap may get smaller.

"Eventually, it's going to be a bare-knuckles fight," Robertson said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Capitol Correspondent David A. Lieb covers Missouri government and politics for The Associated Press.

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