JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A record number of political hopefuls are running for Missouri offices this year, encouraged by the forced departures of many term-limted state legislators.
Missouri's month-long candidate filing period ended with the work day Tuesday, allowing politicians to turn their attention to the Aug. 6 party primaries and the Nov. 5 general election.
The most sharply contested races are expected for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Jean Carnahan and for the 180 state legislative seats up for election.
The secretary of state's office said 619 people filed for U.S. House and Senate, the state Legislature, state auditor and circuit judgeships. Nearly 90 percent are state legislative candidates.
The filing total is up 10 from the record-setting 2000 elections, even though there were more races for statewide offices and judgeships two years ago.
Democratic and Republican election coordinators pointed to the widescale onset of legislative term limits as the chief cause.
"I think the era of the eternal incumbent is coming to an end in Missouri. A lot of people are looking to take advantage of that," said Spence Jackson, a spokesman for Secretary of State Matt Blunt, who is deployed overseas with the Navy.
Challengers step up
But redistricting, based on population changes noted in the 2000 Census, may have also played a role in enticing candidates.
"In areas where districts became either more Democratic or more Republican, you had more folks deciding to take a look," Jackson said.
All of Missouri's nine incumbent U.S. House members have challengers, including House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of St. Louis. But none appear to face a significant threat.
"I would venture to say that Missouri's entire delegation is pretty safe," said state Republican Party spokesman Scott Baker. "It's certainly going to be a good year for incumbent Congress people."
Mrs. Carnahan, however, is expected to face a stiff challenge from Republican Jim Talent of St. Louis, a former congressman who narrowly lost a bid for governor two years ago.
The unusual Senate election will determine who serves the remaining four years of the six-year term. Mrs. Carnahan was appointed to the seat won by her husband, then-Gov. Mel Carnahan, who was killed in a plane crash three weeks before the November 2000 elections.
Mrs. Carnahan faces one Democratic challenger. Talent first must survive a five-person primary.
Two Libertarians also have filed for the seat.
Besides the Senate race, the only other statewide contest is for state auditor, where Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill has avoided any primary opponents. The state Republican Party has embraced St. Louis County attorney Jay Kanzler as its candidate, although Kanzler first must win a primary.
The two major parties have focused much of their efforts on recruiting candidates for the state Legislature, where Republicans narrowly control the Senate and Democrats hold a slim advantage in the House.
Term limits will prevent incumbents from seeking re-election in 12 of the 17 Senate races and slightly fewer than half of the 163 House races. Because of that, about two dozen House members are seeking to move up to the Senate, and many will be running against each other.
Redistricting also has created some new opportunities for office-seekers. For example, the 20th Senate District was moved from southeast to southwest Missouri because of population growth there. Democratic House Speaker Jim Kreider of Nixa is among those seeking the new seat.
This year's elections also will be influenced by a recent federal appeals court ruling reinstating limits on how much money political parties can give to their candidates.
But that doesn't mean parties will play less of a role.
"The demand on the party is 30-fold with term limits," said Mike Kelley, executive director of the state Democratic Party. Because there are so many political newcomers, "we will be playing a larger role in everything from fund-raising to our grass-roots activities to our political organizations to our advice."
Last in line
The last candidate to file was political newcomer Len Clevenger, 54, a Joplin Republican seeking a state House seat forced open by term limits. He beat the filing deadline by just a few seconds, although he had been in Jefferson City for hours weighing the decision.
"I took it very seriously, and I think that's why it's been so hard," Clevenger said. "It's a very important job."
On the Net:
Secretary of state's office: http://mosl.sos.state.mo.us
State Democratic Party: http://www.missouridems.org
State Republican Party: http://www.mogop.org