Barbour, currently governor of Mississippi, visited Southeast Missouri for a rally and private fundraiser to benefit U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, the Columbia Republican who is battling Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon in the race for governor.
In an interview after he made the pitch for Hulshof, Barbour said Republicans have clearly been hurt by the economic news. "There is no question that knocked Republicans back, but the good news is it knocked them back a month before the election and Republicans have a chance to recover," he said.
Hulshof is among the Republicans who have slipped in recent polls. The latest SurveyUSA poll for KMOX-AM in St. Louis and KCTV-TV in Kansas City shows Hulshof trailing Nixon by 22 points, 56 percent to 34 percent, among likely voters.
Without referring to the polls, Barbour told about 50 people gathered at Drury Lodge hotel that it is their job to push for high voter turnout Nov. 4. By getting voters to the polls in friendly rural areas, Barbour said it will be possible to counter big increases in voter registrations in urban areas that lean to the Democrats.
Barbour noted that in Mississippi, voter registrations have increased 10 percent this year. He attributes that increase, in part, to "left-wing organizations that have spent tens of millions of dollars" to build voter rolls nationwide.
Looking back to his first campaign for governor in 2003, Barbour said he won because he achieved record turnout in rural areas that helped him defeat an incumbent Democrat. "Big turnouts like that help conservatives and it helps Republicans. We've got to have a big turnout."
He also sought to portray Nixon as too liberal and too entrenched in Jefferson City politics to reform government ethics rules or bring about change.
"How can somebody who has been in Jefferson City for 22 years, the longest serving person in state government, be for change?" Hulshof said to the delight of the audience.
In an interview after his speech, Hulshof said he is seeing a "headwind" that is resulting in job losses that must be stemmed by quick action. Hulshof said he planned to unveil a full package of short-term proposals later this week, with the centerpiece being an expanded state tax credit program for businesses that add jobs to their payroll.
Hulshof said his proposal would build on the Quality Jobs Act, a tax credit program for large new employers who pay above county median wages and offer health insurance. The program has a cap on total amount of credits available annually, which Hulshof said should be lifted.
"We have to take the cap off and we have to make it so that small businesses would have that available to them," Hulshof said. "I think that is a way to provide impetus in the short term."
Missouri has escaped the worst of the subprime mortgage problems that have led to massive foreclosures in other regions, he said, but the state is feeling the pinch of economic slowdown.
U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson also took part in the rally and urged her followers to take up the challenge of increasing turnout. "We have got to work our hearts out for the next three weeks," she said.
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