Vicky Hartzler rode an anti-incumbent wave into Washington two years ago with a decisive defeat of iconic Rep. Ike Skelton. The 52-year-old Republican congresswoman from Harrisonville now has to convince voters in Missouri's 4th District she isn't part of the same problems they sent her to fix.
Hartzler faces Cass County prosecutor Teresa Hensley, a Raymore Democrat, in the Nov. 6 election. Hensley, 53, hopes to follow in the path of Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, a Cass prosecutor before joining the state Senate. U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill is a former Jackson County prosecutor, and former Rep. Kenny Hulshof was a special state prosecutor before joining Congress.
"There's no Democratic or Republican way to be in the prosecutor's office," Hensley told a group of Morgan County Democrats at a summer campaign event. Hartzler and other tea party Republicans, she said, "go to Congress to fight. That's all they're doing. There aren't any solutions."
Hartzler is unapologetic about her focus — a campaign mailer highlights her efforts at "fixing a broken Washington," and she calls the repeal of President Obama's health care plan her top priority. At a recent GOP rally in Columbia, she touted her work keeping tabs on overzealous federal bureaucrats, citing among several examples the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's move to redraw property boundaries at Lake of the Ozarks after homeowners raised the specter of losing their land under eminent domain.
"My views are more reflective of the values of the people of the 4th District," Hartzler said, thanking the crowd for "partnering with me in this great, great effort to save the heart and soul of our country and to get us back on the right track."
The ballot also includes Libertarian Party candidate Thomas Holbrook of Warrensburg and Lebanon resident Greg Cowan of the Constitution Party.
While both major party candidates call Cass County home, they've made repeated stops in Boone County, a key battleground in a district redrawn after the 2010 U.S. Census. The 4th District loses Jefferson City but gains Columbia, previously part of the 9th District.
As a House freshman in a redrawn district, Hartzler is considered the most vulnerable of the seven congressional incumbents seeking re-election in Missouri. Veteran officeholders William Lacy Clay Jr. Blaine Luetkemeyer, Emmanuel Cleaver, Sam Graves, Billy Long and Jo Ann Emerson are all considered heavy favorites in their districts.
Rep. Russ Carnahan, the eighth member of the delegation, lost a Democratic primary to Clay and leaves office at the end of the year.
In suburban St. Louis, former state and national GOP leader Ann Wagner looks to succeed Rep. Todd Akin, who is challenging McCaskill for the Senate. The one-time U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg and co-chair of the Republican National Committee during former President George W. Bush's first term faces Valley Park Democrat Glenn Koenen in Missouri's 2nd District, the state's only open U.S. House seat this year.
Both Wagner and Koenen won multi-candidate party primaries in August to advance to the general election.
Hensley started out strong, raising more money than Hartzler in the first three months of 2012 while attracting outside attention from inside the Beltway. That fundraising advantage soon evaporated. Through September, Hartzler reported $1.35 million in contributions, with $749,038 yet to be spent. Hensley reported $730,575 in contributions, with $117,466 remaining.
Mindful of Hartzler's criticism of her as a "lifetime lawyer," Hensley has issued policy papers on agriculture, the economy, education, women's issues and senior affairs. She wants to raise taxes on millionaires to help reduce the deficit, and supports increased investment in wind energy and other alternatives to gas and coal.
She holds up several Hartzler votes or stances of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives as evidence of her opponent's obstructionist approach, including a failure by Congress to renew the federal farm bill as well as its inability to renew the bipartisan Violence Against Women Act, which was passed in 1994.
"That's not acceptable. It's unconscionable," said Hensley, who served on a state child abuse review panel and a local women's shelter. "There's a huge difference between who I care about, and who this congresswoman does."
Hartzler, a former teacher and state lawmaker who helped lead the successful fight for a 2004 Missouri ballot measure banning gay marriage, said her views align more closely with district voters.
Like Skelton, who spent 34 years in Congress, she serves on the House Armed Services Committee — a critical post in a district that includes Whiteman Air Force Base and Ft. Leonard Wood. In September, Hartzler and other House committee members held a Warrensburg town hall to decry the estimated $50 billion in defense cuts known as "sequestration" slated for January unless Congress can agree on an alternative deficit reduction plan.
"I've been a real fighter for the district, and have done what they sent me to do — take their common-sense ideas and heartland values to Washington, D.C," she said. "I want to complete the mission that was started two years ago: reign in runaway spending, get government regulations and taxes off our small businesses and create jobs."