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Sen. Bond Has Re-election Edge

Next year's opponent will be Attorney General Jay Nixon

By Charlie Cook

Missouri Senate Race
Unlike most Senate races, the field here is established with GOP Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond vying for a third term against Democratic challenger Attorney General Jay Nixon. The potential for a primary is almost nil, which sets up a long general election battle. Today, both sides seem to be more focused right now on the fundamentals of fund-raising and organization.

In early March, Nixon announced that he would begin raising funds for an exploratory bid. Nixon, 41, received a bachelor's degree from the University of Missouri at Columbia in 1978 and received a law degree there in 1981. In 1986, while in private practice, Nixon ran for and won a seat in the state Senate. In 1988, he was the Democratic Senate nominee, losing that race to then-Sen. Jack Danforth, 32 percent to 68 percent. He went on to serve in the state Senate until 1992, and served as chairman of the Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee. He was elected attorney general in 1992 and was re-elected with 59 percent of the vote.

Nixon backers point to his electoral results, particularly on a county-by-county basis, to argue that Nixon has support that transcends the Democratic base to include independents and some Republicans. It appears that Nixon will focus on attacking Bond in a number of areas. In a recent speech, he criticized Bond for neglecting the environment, voting to increase the deficit and collecting too much money from political action committees.

Nixon got a big boost by winning the endorsement of the Missouri State-Labor Council, which represents 500,000 labor union families in the state. This is a particularly early endorsement, but since Nixon will be unopposed for the nomination and Bond is high on labor's list of targets, it is not terribly surprising.

Democrats have rallied behind Nixon, believing that Bond is vulnerable and the lack of a primary can only strengthen Nixon's hand. Democrats argue that Bond is out of step with the state and has been in politics too long. Bond has never had an easy time winning election. In 1986, he got 53 percent of the vote and in 1992 he won with 52 percent. It is difficult to point to anything that Bond has done as the clear root of his problem; he just never has easy races. As a result, though, Bond is well prepared for a fight and is known for his tenacious campaigning.

One reason for Democrats' optimism is that the state has a record of electing Democrats. Today it has a Democratic governor, five of the six statewide offices are held by Democrats, the state House and Senate are controlled by Democrats, and Democrats control a majority of the seats in the Congressional delegation, although both U.S. senators are Republicans.

There were polls taken early this year. The first was a survey conducted by the Democratic firm of Cooper & Secrest (January 14-17 of 805 voters), which showed Bond with a slim five-point lead over Nixon, 45 percent to 40 percent.

The second was a Market Strategies survey taken for Bond (January 25-29 of 800 registered voters) that gave Bond a 57-percent to 35-percent lead over Nixon. We take issue with both of these surveys, for different reasons. It seems difficult to accept the 5-point Cooper & Secrest margin because Nixon's name identification is said to be about 75 percent. In the case of the Market Strategies poll, we do not readily dismiss the 22-point lead, but think that the ballot test numbers may be a bit high since it leaves an undecided figure of only eight percent, a number we find unrealistic this far from the election. Both polling firms are highly respected, so it may simply be an issue of how and where in the surveys the questions were asked. For now, we think that the race really stands somewhere in the middle. The margin may be between 10 and 15 points and Bond may be in the low 50s, while Nixon is probably at about 40 percent.

Although Nixon was not an overwhelming candidate in 1988, Democrats say that he has learned a great deal since then and is very focused on the race. Bond may indeed be vulnerable to the right kind of challenge and Nixon may provide it, but we will give Bond a slight edge today.

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Spotlight 1996

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