Rural Missouri gives Blunt edge in gubernatorial race

Thursday, November 4, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Newly elected as governor, Matt Blunt will have the opportunity of a lifetime -- in fact, of several lifetimes -- when he takes office in January.

The state's second-youngest governor ever, Blunt also will be the first Republican governor to enjoy GOP legislative majorities since Gov. Arthur Hyde in 1921-1922.

He lost in St. Louis and Kansas City, but won overwhelmingly in rural Missouri in a similar pattern that carried President Bush and Republican Sen. Kit Bond to even larger victories in Missouri. Republicans also gained seats in both the state House and Senate, building upon majorities won there since 2001.

Missourians can expect change, Blunt promised Wednesday, still relishing his early morning victory over Democratic State Auditor Claire McCaskill.

Yet Blunt also faces the challenge of his success -- making good on his pledge to revamp government and improve education, health care and roads.

Blunt, the secretary of state, garnered 51 percent of the vote to defeat McCaskill by 3 percentage points -- 1,380,200 votes to 1,296,362 -- with all statewide precincts reporting unofficial results.

Operating on about 2 1/2 hours of sleep, Blunt skipped his normal run Wednesday morning and received dozens of congratulatory phone calls, including a message from the man he will succeed, Gov. Bob Holden, whom McCaskill defeated in the Democratic primary. Then Blunt stood in a light rain over lunchtime outside his Springfield home, outlining to the media his transition plan for the governor's office.

Even before he takes office, Blunt plans to appoint a commission to recommend the first restructuring of state government since Bond was elected the state's youngest governor in 1972, said Blunt spokesman John Hancock. He also intends to outline various policy proposals while traveling the state and assembling a Cabinet before he's sworn into office, Hancock said.

"Our top legislative priority needs to be doing things to help Missouri's entrepreneurs and small business owners and employers create jobs," Blunt said. "Regulatory relief, worker's compensation reform, liability reform are important components of that. ...

"Then, one of our budget priorities need to be education. And the budget decisions I make are going to demonstrate that we're serious about funding Missouri's public schools," Blunt said. "Something we'll need to work on very quickly is crafting a new school funding formula so that we'll have a more equitable formula."

Some of those priorities -- such as "tort reform" legislation that was vetoed the past two years by Holden -- could be swiftly enacted at the all-Republican Statehouse. But other items, such as the school funding formula, which is facing a constitutional challenge in court, tend to divide along geographic -- not political -- lines.

Blunt pledged Wednesday to seek consensus with minority Democrats. That may be vital, because Republicans are likely to realize that one-party government is not as glorious as it seems, said George Connor, a political scientist at Southwest Missouri State University.

"It's sort of like (President) Roosevelt and the New Deal -- there is going to be a big push across a wide range of programs and policy issues and there's going to be a unified front," Connor said.

"But the second thing is reality is going to set in -- there is going to be tension," between the House and Senate, and between the Legislature and governor.

Associated Press writers Connie Farrow in Springfield and Kelly Wiese in Jefferson City contributed to this report.

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