COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) - Missouri's two sitting U.S. senators squared off in separate appearances Thursday over whether Republican Roy Blunt or Democrat Robin Carnahan is the best choice for voters in next week's Senate election.
Republican Sen. Kit Bond, who is giving up his seat for retirement, campaigned to make Blunt his successor. Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, meanwhile, campaigned with Carnahan. Neither had very complimentary things to say about the candidate representing the rival party.
Speaking to about 60 people at a Democratic rally in Columbia, McCaskill asserted that Blunt was part of "a little circle of incestuous nonsense" involving Republican House leaders and lobbyists who worked together to provide earmarked spending for favored projects. Until 2009, Blunt served as the House Republican whip, responsible for rallying support for legislation backed by the party.
"Pulling the levels of power at that moment, in that back room, was none other than the Republican nominee for Senate, Roy Blunt. And he's the reformer?" McCaskill asked rhetorically. "This is someone who plays the game in Washington ... a guy who's masquerading as a reformer."
By contrast, McCaskill said, Carnahan "has the heart of the reformer."
Bond spoke to several dozen Blunt supporters at the home of Diane Berberich in Imperial, south of St. Louis. Standing in front of a large bay window looking out over wooded valleys, Bond said he planned to wear a "sack over his head" if Blunt did not win his old Senate seat.
He characterized Carnahan as a loyal soldier for President Barack Obama's agenda, which Bond said was far to the left of what most Missourians would support.
"President Obama is counting on her for a vote," Bond said. "I thought that'd about be the end of the discussion."
Although she supports some of Obama's key policies - the health care overhaul and federal stimulus, for example - Carnahan has sought to distinguish herself from the president in other areas. She has called for the extension, at least for some time, of all tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush set to expire at the end of this year. Obama opposes extending tax cuts for what he describes as the wealthiest Americans.
Similarly, Blunt has dismissed attempts by Carnahan's allies to link him to an atmosphere of corruption in Washington as desperate political attacks. He has never been charged with anything illegal.
Bond, who endorsed Blunt soon after he declared his candidacy, also appeared with Blunt at a couple of stops Wednesday and at campaign events Thursday in Farmington and St. Louis.
McCaskill appeared with Carnahan only in Columbia but said she planned to help Carnahan again at several events this weekend. Carnahan also was joined at the Columbia rally by State Treasurer Clint Zweifel and former University of Missouri quarterback Corby Jones, a local sports hero who now is an attorney in Kansas City.
While polls have shown Blunt leading Carnahan, Blunt cautioned, "None of them count."
Carnahan described the polls as "really close" and expressed optimism about the election.
Among those at Carnahan's rally was Jeanne Sebaugh, 70, of Columbia who said she had hosted a pair of fundraisers that generated at least $30,000 each for Carnahan's campaign. She was a little less confident of victory.
"I keep wanting to feel like it could happen," Sebaugh said, "but I don't feel like the chances are very great."
Leonard reported from Imperial, Mo.