And You Thought the Presidential Race Was Going to Be Dry

As Senate rivals Ashcroft and Carnahan sling mud, gubernatorial contestants Talent and Holden gather dust

The John Ashcroft-Mel Carnahan senatorial wrestling match is bound to be nasty -- hell, it already is. But look for the gubernatorial contest to be more like a college debate or a chess tournament. The two leading candidates for governor, U.S. Rep. Jim Talent (R-2nd) and his Democratic rival, state Treasurer Bob Holden, appeared Saturday at the fifth annual St. Louis Neighborhoods Conference, sponsored by the St. Louis Association of Community Organizations. Naturally, both candidates focused on urban-neighborhood issues. After listening to Talent and Holden, few will be rushing to storm the barricades, but that's probably not what the candidates had in mind anyway. In caricature, Talent is a policy wonk and Holden a political bulldog who will be running on Gov. Mel Carnahan's record and the current irrationally exuberant economy more than anything that's happened in the, ahem, treasurer's office. In their talks and Q&A sessions with the several hundred in attendance, both tendencies showed through.

Somewhat surprising was Talent's answer to a question about health care for the indigent posed by Ald. Craig Schmid (D-10th). Talent says he prefers the "innovative aggressive use of a clinic-type" approach to the problem rather than the diversion of patients into health-maintenance organizations. "There are all kinds of advantages that clinics give you that you don't get when you're sending people to different practitioners or putting them in different HMOs," Talent says. "There can be a screening-out. It can be so difficult for people to figure out what it is they need to do or where it is they need to go, that they never get the care." Yes, this is a conservative Republican saying that the private sector may not be the solution. And yes, he says, "If our economy continues to be prosperous, I am convinced the state can do all this; the state can participate in this."

Of course, mixed in with the surprises, Talent's reliance on the wonders of capitalism didn't disappear. In talking about offering tax credits and breaks for those who do business in economically distressed areas, he says, "We won't disturb the basic initiatives of the free market. We just increase the profit potential." Then, by way of explaining that it's better to have than have not, Talent says, "The way out of poverty is asset accumulation." Oh, so that's how it works.

Holden gave more of a canned stump speech, even mentioning Hancock Amendment refunds, as if he had any real choice in that matter. Most of the speech was a litany of how Missouri is one of nine states with a triple-A bond rating and that Governing magazine ranks it as one of the four best-managed states. This is not the stuff that makes folks stand up and hoot. Holden even ended the speech with this clunker: "I say it's time for the Show-Me State to stand up and show the world that we're ready to march into the 21st century and make Missouri the great state it can become." At least he didn't mention crossing any bridge to the next century.

The two didn't share a stage -- that will come after the primaries. Both dwelled on education, taking the usual Republican-Democrat stands, though Talent eventually may score more points because he can bash the current public-school system more broadly. But to motivate the undecided or uncaring to vote for him, Talent must do more than quote Harvard professors and talk about microloans and his American Community Renewal Act's zero-percent capital-gains tax on investments in distressed areas. Somehow he needs to recall the fervor of the Republican Revolution that President Bill Clinton co-opted without reminding anyone of Newt Gingrich. That's a tough one.

AS COLE CAMPBELL HEADS OFF TO THE SEMINAR THAT NEVER ENDS: To avoid reading anything more about former St. Louis Post-Dispatch editor Cole Campbell, skip the rest of this paragraph.... Anybody still out there? Well, in the rush to do last week's obit on Campbell's tour through River City, several miscues slipped through. No, rest easy: He remains a goner. Though the comparison of Campbell to the central figure in The Music Man may have been apt, said figure was misnamed. That character was Professor Harold Hill, not Henry Hill. No, this wasn't a mix-up with Professor Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady, just the wrong first name. Thanks to several of our faithful readers for telling us that, particularly the insightful Bill Motchan, who prefaced his comments by calling us "chuckleheads." Another misstep in that piece appeared in the boldface, all-caps lead-in to the piece (might that also be called a "chucklehead"?). It should have read "Did he jump, or was he pushed?" and not "Did he fall, or was he pushed?" In a failed attempt to appear evenhanded, we may have left readers with some uncertainty in regard to the answer to that question. Well, most polite folks don't discuss employment matters, either to confirm or deny, and P-D publisher Terrance Egger did not call back. Let's just say the betting line on this question favors the notion that the public/civic/whatever-journalism shaman did not jump of his own volition. His move to the Poynter Institute was sudden, and his new job pays less money and involves something that is, dare we say it, less prestigious. Had he ridden off into the sunset to eliminate world poverty or work in a leper colony, that would be one thing, but to give more seminars about journalism -- oh, the horror.

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