State legislator to test Democrat heavyweight

Thursday, June 20, 2002

ST. LOUIS -- Unlike others who end up in Washington, Catherine Enz never had childhood dreams of prowling the halls of the Capitol as a member of Congress.

"I never really had concentrated on any type of public office," Enz said. "It was just the matter of eight years ago, the opportunity was there."

That opportunity was a seat in the Missouri House, which the former print and copy shop owner won as a Republican. Now, Enz sees the state's term limit law, which is forcing her to give up her 99th District seat in the state House, as a similar opportunity. "I've gained eight years of legislative experience and I would like to take those experiences to Washington," Enz said.

To get there, Enz will need to first win the GOP primary in August, where she'll face Mike Steger, a computer programer at the Defense Department's Army Reserve Personnel Center. The winner of that contest is almost sure to face the 3rd District incumbent Dick Gephardt.

Held seat 24 years

Gephardt has not only held the seat for 24 years, but is also the House Minority Leader. "I do not look at him any differently than any other of the 435 representatives in the House," Enz said. "He might have power, he might have money, but I just believe in the process.

"I can draw votes and I just think it's a matter of hard work. That's just the way I look at it." Plenty of Republicans have held that view in the past, and because of demographic changes in the 3rd District, Gephardt has always been the most vulnerable of the state's nine congressman, said Ken Warren, a political science professor at St. Louis University.

But the state legislature redraws district lines every 10 years, based on population shifts reported in the U.S. Census. That gave Gephardt's supporters an opportunity to make changes, an opportunity they capitalized on by increasing the portion of the Democrat-heavy city included in the 3rd.

"Dick Gephardt, at one time, was in a really bad district," Warren said. "He had a hunk of southwest St. Louis County that was really bad -- pretty Republican -- and the city part of his district was getting to be pretty small.

"But now, he's in the best shape he's been in since he first ran in the 1970s. His district this time got really good." And in 2000, it should be noted, a "vulnerable" Gephardt crushed his competition, winning 58 percent of the vote.

John Hancock, the director of the Missouri Republican Party, admitted the redistricting process improved Gephardt's chances for re-election, an effect seen in all nine of the state's congressional districts. But he said Enz has long been considered by the party as a "very viable candidate for that seat."

"The party will watch to see how the race develops, and if Gephardt is perceived to be vulnerable, as election day draws closer, then I think you could see an influx of support into that campaign," Hancock said.

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