Candidates' styles vary in approach to primary

Sunday, August 1, 2004

Claire McCaskill rode into Kansas City, Mo., in the passenger seat of an 18-wheeler, repeatedly honking the rig's deep-sounding horn as she rolled toward the TV cameras for an outdoor rally with supporters.

Bob Holden's entrance wasn't quite so noisy. He walked into a hall at Union Station hugging children and shaking hands. Then the incumbent was introduced to cheering supporters as "the most dynamic governor in the United States of America." Holden smiled in the background.

The contrasting entrances to the candidates' first debate last month in the Democratic gubernatorial primary revealed their different leadership styles -- bold and flashy, traditional and reserved.

The distinction -- and the debate over which Democrat can provide a more effective style of leadership -- has become one of the top issues for voters in Tuesday's primary elections.

"She tends to have a more aggressive, outspoken leadership style," observes Shari Garber Bax, a political scientist at Central Missouri State University. "Holden has a much more quiet, back-room leadership, where he brings people in and talks to them, not necessarily out front."

The high-dollar campaigns of Holden and McCaskill have grabbed the election spotlight. Yet two other Democrats also are on the gubernatorial ballot -- Cole County Auditor Jim LePage, of Jefferson City, who holds himself out as the only anti-abortion candidate; and Jeffery Emrick, of suburban Kansas City.

The Democrats are competing on the assumption they will face Republican Secretary of State Matt Blunt in the Nov. 2 general election. Yet Blunt faces five opponents in the GOP primary -- Karen Lee Dee Skelton-Memhardt, of Wildwood; Jennie Lee Sievers, of Jackson; Martin Lindstedt, of Granby; Jeff Killian, of Jackson; and Roy Lang, of Davisville, the only candidate besides Blunt to report spending any money.

Two Libertarians are battling in their own gubernatorial primary -- Randall Langkraehr, of Warrensburg, a member of the state party's executive committee; and John Swenson, of Kirbyville, who won the party's gubernatorial nomination four years ago.

As the first serious same-party challenger to a Missouri governor in 24 years, McCaskill's message is that Holden has been ineffective. McCaskill claims she stands a better chance of defeating Republicans this fall, then working with them once in office. And she frequently points to her money-saving recommendations as state auditor, where her term runs through 2006.

Holden contends he has been effective -- despite the pestering opposition of a Republican-led legislature -- at protecting education and health care during tough budget times. And he highlights the recent spike in Missouri's job market, which had fallen harder than most during the recession.

The state Democratic Party's leadership has stood behind Holden, as have education groups and many of the largest unions -- core Democratic constituencies. But McCaskill has peeled away some unions, as well as some prominent Democrats.

Another indication of McCaskill's growing momentum has been the unanimous support she had through Friday received from newspapers that editorially endorse candidates.

The Southeast Missourian isn't making an endorsement in the race.

Although McCaskill claims the momentum heading into Tuesday's vote, the most recent media poll -- conducted about two weeks before the election -- showed Holden slightly ahead.

Holden keeps a copy of David McCullough's 1,100-page biography of Harry Truman on his typically clean capitol desk -- and has tried to draw parallels to the president as a fighter who stood up to a Republican legislature and -- Holden hopes -- won re-election against the odds.

Holden equated himself with Truman in a televised debate in St. Louis. His campaign ads and literature proclaim he is "fighting for what matters."

McCaskill, 51, is generally praised as the more polished speaker -- a skill honed as an attorney and Jackson County prosecutor. Holden, 54, won election as governor after serving two terms as state treasurer, and has more of a penchant for facts and figures than catchy phrases.

Both have diversified roots in rural Missouri, Kansas City and St. Louis. And both began elected careers by winning state House seats in 1982.

They differ in style, but perhaps not as much so in substance, said Steven Puro, a political science professor at Saint Louis University.

"McCaskill seems to be more aggressive and assertive than Holden" when communicating, Puro said. "But when he gets in the political fights, he's quite assertive and aggressive."

Staff writer Marc Powers contributed to this report

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