In 2010, Senator Kit Bond plans to retire. Many people expect the lead contenders for his seat to be House Republican Roy Blunt and Missouri's Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan.
If that happens, their race will be watched closely across the nation, given the prominence of their names and an all-out-effort by Republicans to prevent Democrats from gaining a filibuster-proof margin of 60 Senate seats.
Against this backdrop, Missouri's non-partisan, Independent voters could find themselves terribly conflicted – and remarkably influential.
Independent voters make their decisions in several ways. Some vote for the candidate, regardless of party. Some vote for a belief – a belief that the division of power between branches of government should be equally applied to parties of government. Still other Independents vote on an alternating basis – sometimes for the candidate; sometimes for the division of power. That last class of voters will face the most difficult decision in 2010.
Should they support Ms. Carnahan, knowing her victory could strengthen the Democrats' hand in Washington? Or should they support Mr. Blunt to maintain a reasonable division of power, even if they don't believe he is the best candidate?
How Independent voters answer those questions could very well decide Missouri’s 2010 Senate race, especially if that race is as close as the 2006 race between Senator Claire McCaskill and former Senator Jim Talent.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Pete Abel is a public affairs executive. He serves on the boards of Stages St. Louis and the Greater Missouri Chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Association. Previously, he served as managing editor of the political blog “The Moderate Voice.” His career started in 1985, first as a freelance reporter and later as a full-time staff writer for the St. Louis Suburban Journals, covering municipal politics and local businesses.