ST. LOUIS (AP) — Ask Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri about his party’s presidential nominee and you’ll likely get a polite but weary response.
It’s tough enough for the political veteran seeking re-election against up-and-coming Democrat Jason Kander, Missouri’s secretary of state who is showing surprising strength in the polls and in raising money. The string of recent controversies involving Donald Trump, who Blunt has endorsed, doesn’t help.
Like many of his Senate GOP colleagues, Blunt, who served seven terms in the House before his election to the Senate in 2010, prefers to talk about his own record and agenda, not Trump’s.
“It’s my view that I need to focus on what I’m focused on and not spend my time every day responding to whatever he’s talking about that day,” Blunt, 66, said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I think he should talk about jobs and national security and stay focused on what I believe voters are concerned about.”
From Trump’s feud with the parents of a Muslim U.S. Army captain killed in Iraq, to his comments interpreted by some as a suggestion that gun rights backers should commit violence against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, he’s grabbed attention that has coincided with a big dip in the polls in recent weeks. Some Republicans wonder whether other candidates could be dragged down with him.
The stakes are especially high in the Senate, where Republicans hold a 54-46 majority but party incumbents face strong challenges. Blunt knows control of the Senate could come down to his race.
“I think I could be the 51st Republican in the Senate,” Blunt said. “And every voter that cares about the courts, that cares about what would happen if either Secretary Clinton or Donald Trump is president — there are lots of reasons to think about why you would want a Republican Senate in all of those circumstances.”
At 35, Kander is a relative political novice. He served just four years in the Missouri House before narrowly winning election as secretary of state in 2012. But he’s also a war veteran who served as an Army intelligence officer in Afghanistan, and his campaign plays up his military background.
He said in an interview with AP that voters, especially young voters, are fed up with the malaise in Washington.
“I really believe that we need a new generation of leadership right now,” Kander said. “For my own generation, it’s much more pronounced because it’s the only version of American politics people have seen. It’s very frustrating to see it as broken as it is in Washington.”
If Blunt is hedging his bet on his party’s presidential candidate, the same could be said of Kander. Neither attended his party’s national convention.
Kander calls Clinton “the only qualified person running for president.” But he cites evidence that Missouri voters consider each candidate individually, rather than vote party lines: While Republicans John McCain and Mitt Romney carried Missouri in the past two presidential elections, Democrats won nine of 11 statewide races over that same span.
Saint Louis University political scientist Ken Warren believes the top of the ticket will be a factor this time, and Kander will benefit.
“There’s no question that Trump will hurt Blunt,” Warren said. “A lot of Republicans just do not support Trump, particularly the more educated, more metropolitan Republicans who will not turn out. If fewer Republican voters show up and vote for the Republican ticket, it’s essentially negative coattails.”
Voters in Missouri are as divided about Trump as elsewhere.
Jesse Monday, 30, a beer vendor at Busch Stadium, is an independent who is supporting Trump. He believes Trump will help Blunt. In fact, he said he’s more likely to vote for Blunt because of his endorsement.
“One hundred percent,” Monday said. “Trump’s a big businessman and I support business. The country needs to be run like a business.”
But Ann Schmidt, a 34-year-old stay-at-home mother from suburban St. Louis, worries about what Trump would do as president. She typically votes Democratic, and said she certainly will this time.
“I do not like Donald Trump. He will destroy this country,” Schmidt said.
Kander is holding his own against Blunt in terms of fundraising. For the period of April through June, Blunt raised nearly $2.4 million and spent about $1 million, while Kander raised $1.8 million and spent more than $720,000. Blunt had $6.8 million in his campaign coffers as of mid-July, compared to $3.8 million for Kander.
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