JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- In Congress, Ike Skelton has made a career out of national security. In return, Missourians have rewarded Skelton with job security.
The Democrat from Lexington has served for years on the House Armed Services Committee, helping bring an Army engineering school to Fort Leonard Wood, the stealth bomber to Whiteman Air Force Base and a new National Guard training site to Jefferson City.
Voters, meanwhile, have elected Skelton to 13 straight House terms dating to 1976, when Skelton emerged victorious from a nine-way Democratic primary for an open seat and then won the general election.
Now at age 70, Skelton is running for another two-year term representing Missouri's 4th District. There's no indication that his popularity is waning.
Skelton is unopposed for the Democratic nomination. In the Nov. 5 election, he will face Libertarian Daniel Roy Nelson of Stockton and the winner of an Aug. 6 Republican primary featuring Jim Noland of Osage Beach, Chuck Liffick of Richland and Bob Brown of Springfield.
Beating Skelton would be a tough task, each Republican candidate acknowledges. The state GOP doesn't hold out much hope, either.
"That's certainly not what I would call a targeted race," said state GOP spokesman Scott Baker. "On the list of high priorities, that wasn't up there -- not this time around."
For his part, Skelton professes to take every race seriously, although it's been 20 years since he had a serious challenge.
In 1982, Missouri lost a congressional district due to national population shifts, and reapportionment forced Skelton and Republican Rep. Wendell Bailey into the same district. Skelton won the battle of the two incumbents, gaining 55 percent of the vote.
Since then, Skelton has won every election with at least 62 percent of the vote -- several times gaining more than 70 percent. In the political world, those are dominant victories.
Connects with voters
Redistricting taking effect in 2002 is expected to have little effect on Skelton's staying power. Part of his success comes from getting results for the district.
But more important, Skelton believes, is the ability to connect with the voters. He proudly reports that he made 145 public appearances last year in his district and nearby counties.
"I have a motto that I live by: 'If you stay close to the people, the people stay close to you,"' Skelton said. "It's self-fulfilling. The people have been very, very kind to me."
Skelton's leading Republican challenger likely is Noland, who served with Skelton in the state Senate in the 1970s. Noland has been involved in each of the past four campaigns against Skelton. He lost to Skelton in 1994 and 2000 and lost in the Republican primary in 1996. In 1998, Noland's youngest daughter, Cecilia Noland, was the Republican nominee. She, too, lost to Skelton.
Noland said he likes Skelton, but keeps running because Skelton remains a Democrat, and because a campaign gives Noland a chance to share his religious beliefs.
"It doesn't make any difference to me whether I win or lose. If I feel I have a duty to do something, I do it," Noland said. "America has scoffed at God so long that if somebody doesn't stand up and have a voice in the wilderness, America is going to go down."
He said a campaign gives him an opportunity to speak and to preach.
Similarly, the two other Republican candidates both have messages to spread but don't expect much electoral success.
Brown, who lost to Noland in the 2000 Republican primary, runs a telecommunications construction company in Springfield while splitting time on the family farm near Sedalia.
"Here at home, Ike does come off as a conservative and appeals to a lot of people. However, he does have a tendency to vote with the Democratic view on taxes," Brown said. "I believe there is a majority of common sense conservatives, and their voice is not really heard in Washington."
Opposed tax cut
Skelton voted in 2001 against President Bush's $1.35 trillion tax cut and this year against making the entire package permanent, but he has supported other tax relief. In June, he voted to permanently repeal the estate tax and grant permanent tax relief to married couples.
Liffick, a former Navy aviation mechanic, is making his first run for office. While helping a friend remodel a business in Arizona about 10 years ago, he injured his neck, back and shoulders and now is disabled.
His goal is to help others who are poor, disabled or veterans. "I want to make sure that the rest of the people are taken care of, that's what I'm trying for," Liffick said. "Nothing against Congressman Skelton personally, but he has been in office 26 years -- he does not know what the people need."