Blunt speaks at news conference about deciding against re-election

Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Matt Blunt

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Gov. Matt Blunt says he simply lost his sense of mission. That's the best, and essentially only, explanation he is providing for why he will not seek re-election this year.

Blunt insists he could have won if he had decided to run. And the Republican governor says criticism over Medicaid cuts and alleged e-mail destructions in his office had nothing to do with his exit from politics.

At a Capitol news conference Wednesday, Blunt declared he was "absolutely at peace" with his decision and has no intention of resigning before his term ends January 2009.

"I didn't feel that sense of mission," Blunt told reporters repeatedly probing for insight into his decision.

Blunt said much the same thing in a videotaped statement released Tuesday in which he first revealed he would not seek re-election. The announcement stunned allies and enemies alike and sent Republicans into an immediate scramble to come up with a replacement.

On Wednesday, Blunt declined to endorse any of the numerous Republicans deciding whether to enter the race.

As it stands, Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon is the only major candidate still running for governor. Nixon has vowed to press on and scheduled a news conference for late Wednesday morning.

Blunt's announcement came just one week after he delivered a State of the State address highlighting his accomplishments and outlining his priorities for the year. Blunt said he decided not to run again sometime after that speech, after several days of careful consideration and prayer.

Blunt repeated assertions that he had balanced an out-of-whack state budget, boosted education spending and transformed the state's Medicaid health care system for the poor.

"After a great deal of thought and prayer, and with the knowledge that we have achieved virtually everything I set out to accomplish, and more, I will not seek a second term in the upcoming election," Blunt said in Tuesday's videotaped statement.

Blunt also cited a desire to spend more time with his wife, Melanie, and their son Branch, who is almost 3 years old.

But he gave no indication of what he intends to do upon leaving office in January 2009.

Though he had never formally announced a re-election campaign, Blunt had raised millions of dollars for his 2008 gubernatorial committee and sparred frequently with Nixon. No other Republicans had entered the governor's race, assuming the well-financed Blunt made for too stiff of a challenge.

Within hours of Blunt's announcement, Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder issued a statement pledging to formally announce his gubernatorial plans within weeks and proclaiming, "I am the right person to deliver the positive change Missourians deserve."

Others Republicans who confirmed they were considering the gubernatorial race included U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway; U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson; House Speaker Rod Jetton; and former state Rep. Jack Jackson.

A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, who seriously considered a gubernatorial bid in 2004 before deferring to Blunt, said Hulshof was surprised at Blunt's announcement but gave no indication about his intentions.

Political scientist David Webber said Blunt's departure would create "a distraction for the Republicans" until the state's August primary elections, especially if no front-runner quickly emerges. That should give Nixon a boost but may not automatically propel him into office.

"I don't think there's a big vacuum," Webber said. "I think that the Republicans do have a strong party organization and they have experienced candidates, so it shouldn't be hard for them."

The son of U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, Matt Blunt was the second-youngest Missouri governor when in January 2004 he ushered in the state's first Republican-controlled Legislature and Governor's Mansion in about 80 years. He had served the four previous years as secretary of state and before that spent just one term as a state representative from southwest Missouri, from 1999-2001.

The Republican Legislature passed almost every priority Blunt backed.

Among them: restrictions on liability lawsuits; a new school funding method; economic development incentives; tougher penalties on child sex offenders; an ethanol mandate for gasoline; abortion restrictions; and a new college scholarship and construction plan.

But Nixon had made Blunt's 2005 Medicaid cuts the central point of his campaign.

A poll conducted in November for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and TV station KMOV showed Nixon ahead of Blunt, 51 percent to 42 percent, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. It also revealed that 57 percent of the 800 likely voters polled by Research 2000 opposed Blunt's handling of health care, and 61 percent said Blunt's handling of health care would be an important, or very important, factor in deciding their vote for governor.

Blunt had built a fundraising advantage over Nixon. Last week, Blunt reported $4 million on hand compared with Nixon's $1.7 million. But Blunt still needed to refund more than $2.3 million of that to comply with a Missouri Supreme Court ruling that reinstated campaign contribution limits.

Associated Press writers Chris Blank in Jefferson City, David Twiddy in Kansas City, Christopher Leonard in St. Louis and Sam Hananel in Washington, D.C., contributed to this report.

What others are reporting

Here's what other media outlets and political organizations are saying about Gov. Matt Blunt's decision to not seek re-election.

Kansas City Star: "Blunt won't seek re-election"

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "Blunt: One and done"

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "Blunt's announcement stuns Capitol denizens"

Columbia Daily Tribune: "Blunt says he won't seek re-election as governor"

KMOX Radio: "Gov. Blunt to Missourians: I will not seek second term"

KMOX Radio: "Many still ask why governor isn't running again"
**MissouriNet: "Blunt NOT seeking re-election"

The announcement

Links to learn more about Tuesday's announcement from Gov. Blunt that he would not seek re-election.

Blunt's announcement on YouTube
**Associated Press: "Blunt speaks about not seeking re-election"

The Republican field grows quickly

Southeast Missourian: "Kinder, others consider gubernatorial run"
**Post-Dispatch: "Kinder jumps in as others get set to test the water"

Kansas City Star: "Analysis: What's next for Missouri GOP?"

MissouriNet: "Kinder an apparent not-yet candidate"

Possible contenders

Here's a look at the Web sites of possible contenders for the governor's seat.

U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson

Campaign web site

Official web site

U.S. Rep. Sam Graves

Campaign web site

Official web site
**U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway

Official web site

2004 Secretary of State campaign web site
**U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof

Campaign web site

Official web site
**Former state Rep. Jack Jackson

Campaign web site
**House Speaker Rod Jetton

Campaign web site

Official web site
**Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder

Campaign web site

Official web site
**State Treasurer Sarah Steelman

Campaign web site

Official web site
**Former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent

Senate campaign web site

From the blogosphere

Here's what being talked about in the blogosphere:

Missouri Pulse: "Blunt's Brave Decision is a Real Opportunity for Missouri Republicans"
**Fired Up! Missouri: "Questions, oh so many questions"
**CDTPoliticsBlog: "Kinder reacts to Blunt announcement"

Springfield News-Leader: Tony Messenger Blog

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