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Saint Louis Post-Dispatch - Showdown In the 9th: Luetkemeyer (R) Wants to Limit Government

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Location: Columbia, MO

Saint Louis Post-Dispatch - Showdown In the 9th: Luetkemeyer (R) Wants to Limit Government

Boardroom in the morning, bean field in the afternoon.

That's how former state Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer described a typical day in his campaign for the 9th District Congressional seat.

It also reflects the Republican nominee's small-town insurance, banking and farm background — an affinity with the rural-oriented district that party strategists are counting on to help carry him to victory.

"I have that unique ability to connect with all those people and understand those issues," Luetkemeyer told a Chamber of Commerce forum in Hallsville.

Luetkemeyer, who defeated four primary opponents, also is employing many familiar social and financial issues Republicans have used to win in outstate Missouri over the past decade. Among them: opposition to abortion, gun restrictions and same-sex marriage; and support for tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush.

The GOP hope is that these will trump voter concern over the current economic crisis.

Limiting government regulation also is part of Luetkemeyer's philosophy.

"The people can solve problems as long as government just puts a structure in place that allows people to do what they do best," he said.

Luetkemeyer opposes Democratic nominee Judy Baker's proposal to expand the federal children's health insurance program as too costly. Instead, he wants Congress to make it easier for small businesses to pool together to qualify for affordable group insurance plans for employees.

"I'm realistic and pragmatic enough to know you shouldn't be proposing something you don't have a way to pay for," he said. Baker says Congress should shift its priorities to find the money for her proposal.

Luetkemeyer emphasizes his support for drilling for oil offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, along with looking for alternative fuel sources.

Baker supports Congress' recent removal of the ban on offshore drilling but says priority should go to searching for other fuels. She is skeptical about drilling in the refuge.

Luetkemeyer is from St. Elizabeth, a town of about 300 about 20 miles east of the Lake of the Ozarks. He and his wife, Jackie, live two houses up from the home where he was born and grew up.

His mother was a teacher; his father was an insurance agent and worked for a bank that he eventually owned. As a sideline, the family raised cattle and hogs on a nearby farm.

Luetkemeyer starred in baseball in high school and at Lincoln University in Jefferson City. After unsuccessful tryouts with the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates, he worked for the state as a bank examiner assigned to various locales.

He later returned home to work for the family businesses; he now runs the insurance agency and is on the bank board. Luetkemeyer served on the town's board of trustees and taught Sunday school and has been on the board at St. Lawrence Catholic Church.

In 1998, he won the first of three terms in the Missouri House, where he specialized in banking and insurance issues.

Colleagues in both parties described him as a serious legislator who engaged in floor debate only when he really had something to contribute. "He's not a grandstander," said Bob Johnson, a former GOP legislator from suburban Kansas City.

He was the Republican caucus chairman and chaired a committee on financial services. Luetkemeyer said his most important legislative effort was to try to expand access for people with high-risk medical conditions to a special state insurance program. The bill didn't pass during his tenure but eventually was approved.

Baker, meanwhile, has hit Luetkemeyer's push in Jefferson City to allow insurance companies to offer stripped-down health policies that don't include state-required minimum coverage of mammograms and other preventive screenings, maternity benefits and childhood immunizations.

Luetkemeyer said the goal of the bill, which didn't pass, was to get more people covered by offering an alternative to going without any insurance. "I was on the cutting edge of the issue," he said, explaining that other states have begun allowing bare-bones policies.

Dueling TV commercials are running on the issue, with one featuring an attack on Luetkemeyer from a breast cancer survivor who backs Baker. A response ad has a daughter of Luetkemeyer saying he does care about beating cancer and pointing out that Luetkemeyer's parents both have had the disease.

Baker also has attacked Luetkemeyer for passing a bill that removed some state regulations on variable-rate loans, saying the measure mirrors failed federal policies that led to the financial crisis. A Luetkemeyer spokesman said it was unfair to tie the two issues.

The race has drawn national interest, lots of money and a barrage of TV and radio ads and mailings — many negative. Luetkemeyer's campaign amassed more than $1.4 million, including $920,000 in personal loans from Luetkemeyer himself. In addition, the GOP's House campaign committee made $612,000 in independent expenditures.

Baker's campaign raised more than $1.3 million, including a $10,000 loan from Baker. Pro-Baker independent expenditures have been made by a health care advocacy group tied to unions ($619,000); an American Hospital Association committee ($33,000), a credit union group ($150,000) and a Democratic House campaign fund ($738,000).

The Democratic group has run TV ads criticizing Luetkemeyer for supporting allowing workers to earmark some of their Social Security taxes to their own investment accounts.

Meanwhile, Luetkemeyer poked fun at a mailing by the same committee that mistakenly identified a photo of the district's Republican incumbent, Kenny Hulshof, as that of Luetkemeyer. He said the mailing inadvertently let recipients know that he's "a Kenny Hulshof conservative."

"I guess they finally got it right," he quipped at an event in Columbia.

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