Missouri Republicans, after giving Congressman Ike Skelton a pass in the last several election cycles, have targeted the 4th Congressional District.

Public opinion polling, plus unprecedented trouble for incumbents in other elections this year seem to give Missouri Republicans optimism that they can win a prize that has eluded them for years, the 4th Congressional District.

Missouri Republican Party Executive Director Lloyd Smith says party strength is evident in that more than 88,000 Republican ballots were cast in the August primary in the 4th, compared to just over 32,000 for Democrats.

“By history, this is an unbelievable outpouring of support for the GOP and certainly was involved in a heavily contested primary,” Smith says. “But also I think it shows we are energized with our base and extremely interested in the issues at hand.”

Former State Representative Vicky Hartzler of Harrisonville won a nine-candidate Republican race in the 4th Republican primary on August 3rd. Hartzler received 35,860 votes, easily defeating State Senator Bill Stouffer of Napton who came in second with 26,473 votes. Skelton easily won a two-candidate race in the Democratic primary 25,919 to 6,268 for Leonard Steinman.

Missouri Democratic Party Executive Director Brian Zuzenak dismisses the calculation made by Smith, pointing out that all the competitive races in the August primary were on the Republican side of the ballot.

“Those kinds of competitive races are the reason you’re seeing the big numbers on the Republican side. We’re seeing this throughout the state. It’s not something we’re reading into too much,” says Zuzenak. “I mean the facts of the matter are all the competitive races were on the Republican side this year and that’s what drives voter turnout more than anything.”

Political newcomer Tom Schweich defeated Representative Allen Icet of Wildwood in the Republican race for Auditor. Southwest Missouri Congressman Roy Blunt had no trouble defeating upstart candidate Chuck Purgason in the Republican primary for US Senate.

Zuzenake rejects Republican claims that Skelton has lost touch with the district. He says Skelton has remained an independent voice, which is why voters have returned him to Washington since he first won election in 1976.

Skelton faced his last serious challenge to re-election after the 1980 US Census cost Missouri one of its 10 Congressional seats. The re-drawn district lines threw freshman Republican Congressman Wendell Bailey of Willow Springs, who represented the old 8th Congressional District, into a re-election fight with Skelton though the re-drawn lines favored Skelton who won the race in 1982 by more than a nine percent margin.

AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [1:20 MP3]