MO-Sen: Jim Talent vs. Claire McCaskill

Sunday, Oct. 1, 2006: The overflow crowd at the Cathedral Basilica Roman Catholic Church in St. Louis, Mo., was there to attend the Red Mass, the annual service celebrating the opening of the judicial term. Archbishop Raymond Burke presided over the Mass. Present in the front row were Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and Sen. Jim Talent, both conservative Republicans and both Protestants.

The obvious question was: “Where was Claire?”—Claire McCaskill, that is, former state auditor who is the Democratic nominee against Talent and a Roman Catholic.

McCaskill takes positions on cultural issues that are the polar opposite of those of Archbishop Burke and Talent (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 94%). She has a record of opposing a ban on partial-birth abortion. She also came out against both a state and federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and woman and hailed legislation providing federal funding for stem-cell research. Talent stood on the opposite side of all these issues.

But the differences between the two extend far beyond the cultural area. When Talent was out campaigning for their state’s “right-to-carry” gun initiative, McCaskill was foursquare against it. While Talent proudly spoke and voted for Samuel Alito’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, McCaskill came out against Alito—proving Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean’s vow to Missourians that McCaskill’s election would mean “one less vote for Alito.” McCaskill opposed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and repeal of the death tax, while Talent proudly voted for both.

With Missouri considered one of the most genuinely swing states of all 50, this is a showcase Senate race. It has been profiled in the Washington Post and by such national pundits as George Will. McCaskill and Talent have been battle-tested and are familiar fixtures throughout the Show Me State’s 114 counties. The 53-year-old McCaskill defeated an incumbent governor in the Democratic primary two years ago, but lost the general election in a close race. Former U.S. House member Talent lost a squeaker of a race for governor in 2000, but bounced back in a special election in ’02 to unseat Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan, who was appointed to the Senate in 2000 when her husband Mel was elected 22 days after he was killed in a plane crash.

That was the first time since 1980 that a Democrat had won a Senate race in Missouri, but because McCaskill is as well-known as any incumbent and because of the uncertainty of politics this year, polls usually show the Democratic challenger is neck-and-neck with the GOP incumbent.

“I represent Missouri’s common-sense, conservative values,” says Talent, and in a state that has gone Republican at the top of the ticket for five straight elections, that should be enough for him to win again. But it may not be in this unpredictable year running against such a well-known opponent. The call sounds clear and loud for conservatives to rally to Jim Talent’s side in his time of need.